All of Craig and Linda’s 2013 adventures compiled into one, handy, enormous post. Read about the Indie Travel adventures of 2013!
Tuesday 1/1: Since we went to bed at a time normally regarded as “the morning”, we slept in spectacularly late. Craig brought me breakfast (lunch) in bed and we lounged around until early evening, when Lauren and her husband Alejandro arrived. We met Lauren at TBU in September, and they were visiting Alejandro’s family in a nearby town. After a glass of Oloroso, we took them for a walk around a scarily-empty Jerez, stopping in at the cloisters to see the nativity scenes. They couldn’t stay long as they had to be back for dinner, so we walked them to the train station to say goodbye — which turned out to be a great idea, as there was a kebab restaurant right by the station with our names on it.
Over kebabs, we started our year-end ritual, where we talk about everything we’ve done in the previous year. The conversation lasted through dinner, along the walk home, and for a fair while back in our living room — we’d had a pretty amazing year!
Wednesday 2/1: I started the day on Skype, talking first with Oliva and then with Mum. After a bit of administrative work (yawn) we headed over to the Archaelogical museum, which was free for us because we’re residents of Jerez (score!).
In the morning, I’d visited the Jerez website to find out the museum’s opening hours, and I’d noticed that there was a parade going on that evening. I forgot all about it until it was almost too late, but at about 7.15 I suddenly remembered and dragged Craig out of the house to see it. It was a pretty low-key affair, with just one float at the very end; all the rest of the participants were on foot. It was hilarious how the spectators would barge right into the parade so that they could take photos of their children with various cartoon characters.
Thursday 3/1: Fede came over in the morning for an English class, and in the afternoon Craig and I headed out for a long walk around the city. We discovered all sorts of places we’d never been before, it was great.
Friday 4/1: We spent the morning working, or in my case, trying to work out how to get to the Canary Islands cheaply — we’re thinking about visiting for a week after we leave Jerez.
After lunch we headed to a cafe for a final read-through of the Las Vegas guide over churros and hot chocolate, then rewarded ourselves with a glass of sherry in La Cruz Blanca. It was very nice sherry, but the bill came as a surprise — Craig’s wine cost three times the normal price! Looks like we won’t be ordering Palo Cortado there again.
Saturday 5/1: It turns out that the parade we went to on Wednesday was but a shadow compared to the “real” Three Kings Parade. We headed out at around 7pm, and it seemed like everyone else in the city was already lining the streets of the parade route. We filled our waiting time by following a family through the open door of a school, to find out what the attraction was — we’d actually been in once before but had chickened out, unsure of we were allowed to be there. The family crossed a courtyard and disappeared through an open door, then ducked behind a curtain. We followed… And saw was a nativity scene. Awesome.
Back on the street, the parade was starting to arrive. There were several marching bands and groups of teenagers in odd costumes, as well as the obligatory cartoon characters. There were also several floats pulled by tractors, and the three most impressive of these held the three kings Kaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. They and their lackeys threw out a LOT of sweets, as well as some tacky toys that caused small riots wherever they landed.
We weren’t quite ready to go home when the parade ended, so we headed to a bar in our local plaza that boasts a beer museum (glorified decorations, really), and sat upstairs out of the crowds with reasonably-priced glasses of sherry.
Sunday 6/1: We’d been a bit disappointed by Christmas, so we decided to buy each other a cheap gift or two to be opened on the morning of Three Kings Day, as per the Spanish tradition. Among the gifts was a Connect Four game and a Chinese Checkers game, so we spent half an hour playing before we even got out of bed.
Fede’s mum Charo had invited us over for lunch, so Fede picked us up at around 2pm and took us to her place — where we proceeded to eat very well and drink even more. Charo had made a delicious paella, after which we had the traditional dessert of roscón de Reyes.
The sobremesa is an important part of a Spanish meal, where you sit around the table and chat (and drink). Today, this went on for several hours — eventually Charo decided we must be hungry again and made a Spanish tortilla for dinner. We finally left at around 10.30pm. Fede and Lien offered to drive us home, but we we’re keen for a walk after so much eating and drinking.
Monday 7/1: Since Reyes Magos fell on a Sunday, Monday was a public holiday — but not for us. We worked.
Tuesday 8/1: Although Lien hadn’t been planning to do anything for her birthday, she gave in to peer pressure and decided to have a party, and we were invited. It was a lovely evening, full of good conversation with new acquaintances and delicious food.
Wednesday 9/1: After a morning of work (and a catch up with Ange via Skype), we headed over to Fede’s mum’s place for lunch, to celebrate her birthday. Fede and Lien were there, as well as five or six of Charo’s girlfriends, and it was hilarious — we all crowded into the kitchen to help with preparations, and everyone got louder and louder as the wine bottles were emptied. Charo made another delicious paella as well as a tasty carrot cake, and she wouldn’t let us leave without a large slice of it wrapped in tinfoil.
Thursday 10/1: I realised that if I want to lose the Christmas kilos I’ve put on, I’d need to do some sort of exercise, and running is the only viable option. So, in the afternoon we walked all the way to the shopping centre on the outskirts of town, and spent far too much time shopping at Decathlon. I found some adequate running shoes, and Craig picked up an entire outfit in preparation for our week of yoga at Azul Fit.
In the evening, I went to the Thursday night intercambio, while Craig stayed at home.
Friday 11/1: Craig spent most of the day trying to work out while the website isn’t playing nicely, and I started to look for work in Berlin. It’s now settled that we’ll be there for all of July, August, and September, so if you know of any English teaching jobs, let me know!
In the evening, I headed across town to meet Monica for a language exchange, and when I got home Craig and I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Saturday 12/1: Our neighbours across the courtyard (Julia and Vicente) invited us over for a glass of Sherry in the evening, but it turned out to be for dinner as well (which was delicious). Julia’s brother Monolo and his wife Pamela were there too, and we spoke a mix of English and Spanish since Pamela’s from the UK and Vincent is from the US — quite an international gathering, really!
Sunday 13/1: Craig had planned to take the day off, but ended up spending most of it trying to fix the problems on the website. I spent the day reading and even spoke to my Colombian friend Julian for a while, which was nice.
Monday 14/1: After a long Skype chat with Dave and Angie (part business, part pleasure) we recorded and published the podcast and both of us got a lot of other work done.
Tuesday 15/1: In the late morning we headed over to the Zoobotánico, where we chatted for awhile with our contact Mercedes then wandered around to see the animals. The zoo was small but pleasant, and I was impressed by the breeding programme which is the zoo’s main focus. The otters were also awesome.
On the way home we noticed that the flamenco centre was open — we usually never pass by there during its opening hours. So, we stopped in for half an hour or so, before having a delicious menu del día lunch in Plaza Esteve.
After a worky afternoon, we headed to Damajuana in the evening for a glass of sherry at the English-speaking meetup.
Wednesday 16/1: While Craig spent the day working and trying out his new time-tracking software, I studied: Spanish in the morning, German in the afternoon.
Thursday 17/1: After a morning of work, we headed over to the Hammam Andalusí in the late afternoon. They’d invited us to try out their facilities and I thought we’d just we spending an hour or so in the pools, but no — they wanted us to have the full deal. After an hour of alternating between the freezing cold and very hot pools, we were led into a treatment room for a luxurious body scrub and facial mask. Next, we were given delicious mint tea before a half-hour massage in a deliciously scented room. Afterwards were shown around the rest of the complex by Virginia, one of the owners. She left us on the terrace with a drink, cheese, and a fantastic view of the cathedral — it was magic.
We weren’t quite ready to head home though, so we had a sherry at Tabanco Plateros first.
Friday 18/1: We’d arranged to go to the Palacio del Tiempo at 10.30, but getting out of bed was more difficult than we thought it would be. Eventually we managed, and ended up arriving at the gates ten minutes early! The website indicated that the complex had two entrances, so we wandered around to the other one, only to find it locked. By the time we got back to the first gate we were late — though probably not by Andalusian time.
Our contact Marian took us around the impressive museum, which houses over 300 clocks (the oldest is from 1670), then showed us some of the other buildings on the property, used for events like weddings and conferences. She indicated a locked door and explained that the Mystery of Jerez display which used to be housed there was no longer operating — now, they use the space for events. I was surprised, as the tourist maps and Mystery of Jerez website advertise it as much as ever.
Saturday 19/1: After a slow day, we met Ana and Diego at Tabanco Plateros for a drink and a chat, before heading to Mesón León for delicious tapas.
Sunday 20/1: Ah, sleeping in is so good! And so is being brought breakfast in bed. So on the whole, today started very well. We spent the day relaxing, then headed out for a walk and a light lunch at 100 Montaditos: everything’s €1 on Sundays!
Monday 21/1: As usual, Monday was a work day — but this week there was a fair amount of frustration to it. After recording the podcast, we discovered that there was a lot of background buzz in the recording and we had to do it all over again. At least it was an interesting one to talk about!
A highlight of the day was speaking to my sister for an hour or so on Skype and catching up on her news.
Tuesday 22/1: Most of Tuesday was spent doing a final proof-read of the Las Vegas guidebook that’s coming out soon. It’s looking good!
In the afternoon I spoke to Oliva for an hour or so, and in the evening we mostly watched TV.
Wednesday 23/1: Near our place there’s a bar that occasionally advertises a €6 menu del dia. Last week we noticed the sign out on a Wednesday, so we ventured out there to see if we were in luck… but no. Instead, we went to 100 Montaditos again to make the most of their everything-for-€1-on-Wednesdays deal.
Our German class in the afternoon had a little less than the usual energy — Craig was a little sick and I couldn’t concentrate.
In the evening Craig went to bed early and I chatted to my Colombian friend Julian for an hour.
Thursday 24/1: Craig still wasn’t feeling well and I had no energy at all, so Thursday was pretty much a write-off. We did head out in the evening to have a drink in La Porvera; I stayed for the language exchange, which was fun, but Craig headed home to have a night in.
Friday 25/1: The rain was pelting down when I woke up, scuttling plans to hang out the washing. Fede didn’t want to park his new car in the city, so he picked me up and took me back to his place for our English class.
I had a dentist’s appointment in the evening — one of my teeth suddenly started aching and I thought I’d better overcome my fear of dentistry to have something done about it. The dentist and hygienist were both lovely, but they told me that I needed to have two wisdom teeth removed more or less urgently, as well as a bit of other work. Fun. They gave me a prescription for antibiotics and an appointment for Tuesday, and Craig and I celebrated with a glass of Amontillado in Plaza Plateros.
When we got home, I decided to make a few phone calls, and ended up talking to my mother, my father, and my brother — it was great to catch up with them all.
Saturday 26/1: I managed to drag myself out of bed at a reasonable hour to go for a run, and later took Craig to the market to buy fish for lunch. The vendor very kindly threw in an extra tuna steak for free, and gave us advice about how to cook it — and it was very tasty.
After an afternoon of lazing about, we went for a walk to the big supermarket on the outskirts of town, to stock up on such essentials as rice noodles and sweet chili sauce. In the evening, we rented the second Sherlock Holmes movie, which was good fun.
Sunday 27/1: Our long sleep in was somewhat disturbed by the neighbours turning the radio on at an ungodly hour, and said radio playing “Jingle Bells.” We got back to sleep again, and didn’t surface until 1pm — and I’d completely missed an appointment with Oliva.
Craig brought me “breakfast” in bed, and I spent most of the afternoon reading while Craig played his computer game. We headed out for a walk at dusk, but it was raining so we took refuge in 100 Montaditos — their €1 menu is valid on Sundays too.
Monday 28/1: Mondays always seem busy at the moment, and this one was no exception — we recorded a podcast and got a whole lot of other work done.
Tuesday 29/1: We’d organised to visit Alvaro Domecq bodega in the morning, and had an enjoyable tour with our contact Maria. I especially enjoyed seeing the vinegar cellar, which is something we hadn’t seen at any of the other wineries we’ve visited, and of course tasting some of the wines at the end of the tour.
What wasn’t quite so enjoyable was the next stop, the dentist’s. We had a bit of time before my appointment, so we had coffee and sandwiches filled with tasty jamón Serrano. And then I had a tooth pulled.
I’m pretty lucky, I suppose, that my face didn’t swell up or anything, and the pain wasn’t unbearable, but having teeth pulled just isn’t fun. I could only eat soft, cold food for the rest of the day, so I had creamed rice and avocado for dinner.
Wednesday 30/1: Although Craig spent the day working, I couldn’t concentrate and mostly just read my book.
Thursday 31/1: After a morning of work, Craig and I walked over to the train station to meet Alba. We dropped off her bag at home, then went for a long walk around the city to show her the sights, with a pause at a bar for a Sherry lesson.
Diego and Ana had invited us all over for dinner, and although we almost missed the bus and had forgotten their address, we made it there right on time. They were hosting two German girls, one of whom didn’t speak any Spanish — so the conversation was a mix of Spanish, English and German. Craig and I even managed to produce a couple of sentences in German. The food was delicious, as always: Ana had prepared a nice soft fish stew because of my tooth removal — she’s so sweet!
Friday 1/2: On the way back from the Flamenco centre (which was less interesting than I remembered it being) Alba and I saw the elusive €6 menu del día sign — so we had to eat there. And it was fantastic. The options were limited but the food was great quality and the music was hilarious.
Since I’d misread the website (and also because it had contradictory information on it) the Museo del Belen was closed when we arrived later in the day. So Alba and I headed to the Lidl, which I wish I’d known about earlier because it had so many awesome things to buy! At least we’d been able to visit the Claustros de Santo Domingo earlier, which were as spectacular as always.
After a light dinner we walked over to Tabanco Plateros, where Alba had the second part of her Sherry lesson (part two: dulce) and almost died with happiness because the olives were so tasty.
After a couple of drinks, we headed across town to attend a flamenco recital. It was interesting, but since none of us are enamoured with this style of music we only stayed for two songs.
Saturday 2/2: After an inadvertent sleep-in on my part, Alba and I went to the market to buy food for lunch; then dropped off our purchases, picked up Craig, and headed to the Alcázar.
This fortress is the archaeological jewel of Jerez and we still hadn’t visited in the two and a half months we’d been here — but it was worth the wait. It’s a lot larger inside than it seems from the other side of the wall, and includes a palace, several towers, Arabic baths and some fantastic gardens. We really enjoyed the camera obscura, which gave us a great view of the city and surroundings.
After a tasty lunch cooked by Craig, we had a long rest, then Alba and I walked back to the Museo del Belen — which she loved. It was a bit strange seeing all those nativity scenes in February, but it’s a great idea for a museum.
Sunday 3/2: Fede and Lien were picking us up at 9am, which meant an early start. We succeeded, though! Our first stop was at Junta de Los Rios for a delicious, cheap, and artery-hardening breakfast of zurrappa on toast. Next, we drove towards Grazalema, but stopped just before the town for a one-hour hike in the Sierra de Grazalema. Later, we spent an hour or so in the town itself, which is one of the famous White Villages; we had a beer and ate delicious cheese, then explored a little before driving to Ronda.
Ronda was spectacular — not only did it have the white walls and terracotta roofs of the other white villages, it also had a gorge crossed by a very impressive bridge, and fantastic views from the cliff top. It’s a pity that lunch was a rip-off: slow service, hidden charges and disappointing portion sizes left us all complaining as we walked away.
Lien and Fede had dinner with us, which Craig prepared while I taught everyone how to play Monopoly Deal. Everyone seemed to like the Vietnamese summer rolls, though Fede wasn’t too impressed when I knocked over the bottle of water into his lap, smashing two glasses along the way. Fun times!
Monday 4/2: Alba had never been to Seville, so we decided to spend an entire day there. We walked through the Plaza de España and the neighbourhood of Triana, and met up with Shaun, a Twitter contact of Craig’s who runs tapas tours. She took us to a couple of really excellent tapas bars where we spent most of the afternoon eating high-quality, delicious food.
Due to short opening hours, we’d missed our chance to visit the cathedral or the Alcázar by the time we finished eating, so we went up the setas (mushrooms) for a view of the city instead.
Before catching our train home, we made a stop at El Corte Ingles to buy Alba some new shoes — all that walking had given her blisters!
Tuesday 5/2: After a slow morning, Alba and I headed to Gonzalez Byass winery to do their tour. It was more or less as I expected: a pretty good tour but quite a lot more touristy than the other ones we’ve done. And only two (not great) wines were included in the price, which was one of the most expensive in the city. (Bodegas Tradición is the only more expensive one, but their tour includes a visit to their excellent art gallery and tastings of all six beverages they produce).
In the afternoon Craig worked, Alba read her book in the sun, and I had to have another tooth pulled. It didn’t go well, but at least I never have to go through it again. Ever.
Wednesday 6/2: We had to make an early start to get a lift to Cadiz with our landlady Isabel. She kindly gave us a quick tour in the car, then dropped us at one of the main squares.
We spent most of the day walking around and exploring; we visited the Castillo de San Sebastián and the Castillo de Santa Catalina as well as stopping by the market and poking our heads into the cathedral.
Craig had to head home to work after our stop at Torre Tavira (the camera obscura is awesome), but Alba and I kept exploring. We visited the museum, had a tasty lunch at La Gorda te da de Comer, and checked out the constitution exhibition at el Oratorio de San Felipe Neri.
Thursday 7/2: Alba’s train left at 10.15, so we walked her to the station to wave her off. On the way home, we finally stopped at a cafe we’d been meaning to visit for awhile — they always have such tasty-looking cakes in the window. When we got home we really had to settle down to work, though I also chatted with Oliva before our German lesson with Tanya at 5pm.
In the evening, we headed to La Porvera for the language exchange. Tanya was there and introduced us to her host father Pedro and his friend Amparo. They’re both really nice and Pedro’s into modern board games — it’s a pity we didn’t meet them earlier!
Friday 8/2: We’d obviously made an impression on Pedro, because we got a message from him in the morning inviting us to a party in the evening. So we spent the day working, then headed over to Amparo’s house at around 9pm. There were lots of interesting people to speak to, and they were playing the finals of the Cadiz carnival singing competition on TV in the background, which was interesting to watch. Later, a bunch of us sat down to play Lobo, which is more or less the same as murder in the dark, which we used to play almost every week with our youth group friends.
Saturday 9/2: We’d been offered tickets to the Yeguada de la Cartuja horse show, but I’d forgotten to look up directions. It was a bit of a nasty surprise to realise that it’s a long way out of town — we had to catch a quite expensive taxi.
The show was great, though. The visit started with a tour of the premises — we got up close and personal with several of their 300 horses, and visited the operation theatre and a carriage museum. The show started an hour or so after we arrived, and it was great — a herd of stampeding colts opened the spectacle, and there was also a dressage exhibition, a demonstration of mares working in line, and a carriage speed test, among other things.
We had a quick sherry and met our contact Patricia, then headed out the gates to work out how to get home. There were a couple of tour buses in the carpark, so we asked one of the drivers if he’d be going past Jerez and if he could drop us off. He and the tour guide were happy to oblige, and the trip back home was one of the most hilarious in our lives. The guide told jokes, got everyone singing, and occasionally just turned on the mike to hum a few bars of a song. Our seatmates chatted to us the whole way and seemed indignant that we were being dropped off at the side of the road — for us, though, it was great. We were still a half-hour walk from home, but we’d been deposited within 100 metres of a mosto, a seasonal farm restaurant. So of course, we stopped in for lunch and filled up on shrimp fritters, mushrooms and ajo del campo soup. Yum.
We spent most of the rest of the day working, the met Ana and Diego in Tabanco Plateros for a drink and a few tapas. The new discovery of the day was mojama — slices of tuna cured like ham! It was mad. Also, tasty.
We realised that we probably won’t have another chance to play Monopoly Deal until Ana and Diego visit us in Berlin, so we went back to our place for more tapas and a few drinks.
Sunday 10/2: I decided to celebrate our last Sunday here by going to church… Also, I wanted to finally see the inside of the cathedral that we’ve lived next to for three months! The service was pleasant and the building was lofty; it was a really nice start to the day.
After that, Craig and I went to the flea market that’s held every Sunday in the square outside the Alcazar — in other words, about three minutes from our place. Somehow, we’d never quite managed to get there.
Lunch was a menu del día in the Plaza Arenal. The food was disappointing but it came with a free show — almost all the kids running around were dressed up for Carnival. There were a LOT of princesses.
On the way home we noticed a crowd (formed principally of people in Puss in Boots costume) in our local plaza. We’d noticed the stage set up for the past couple of days, and finally something was happening! We joined the crush to watch a group of guys of all ages singing a chirigota — these satirical songs are a staple of carnival here.
Monday 11/2: Craig was hoping to launch our two excellent guide books today, but unfortunately they ran into some last-minute snags and it wasn’t possible. We both spent the day working, trying to tie up loose ends.
Tuesday 12/2: Apart from a quick trip to the dentist to have my stitches out, it was another work day.
Wednesday 13/2: Craig spent most of the day holed up inside, but I headed across town for a final language exchange with Monica. In the afternoon we had our last German class, and Tanya gave us the most awesome gift — a couple of activity books (aimed at kids) to practice our German.
Thursday 14/2: After an English class with Fede, I spent a couple of hours cleaning, while Craig tapped away at his computer. Then we went over to Charo’s for a last lunch at her place — it was delicious, as always. Charo’s friends Emi and Monolo were there, and they’d brought us a gift: a 1.5l bottle of Oloroso wine from their bodega. They suggested we take it back to New Zealand with us, but that’s not possible for two reasons: we travel carry-on size, and we won’t be back home for at least six months — no bottle of wine will last us that long!
In the evening we’d planned a party at Tabanco Plateros, but Tanya met us at our place a little early and helped us with the Oloroso. Then our neighbours Julia and Vicente dropped by to look at our dehumidifier, which they were thinking about buying, and we bullied them into having a drink too.
The party was great, Ana and Diego were there, and so were Lien and Fede. The neighbours dropped by for an hour or so, and Tanya’s host dad Pedro and his friends Amparo and Rafa came as well. We stayed until the bar closed, then six of us headed back to our place to finish the Oloroso. It was a fantastic end to our stay here in Jerez.
Friday 15/2: Since Fede had offered to take us to the airport, we ended up with a lot more of the day to ourselves than we would have had if we’d caught the train. So we got up a little late and spent the morning alternately cleaning and working. In the afternoon, Craig got a haircut and we had a delicious menu del día lunch at the Garage before heading home for the final clean and pack.
Fede collected us from our place and we picked up Lien from her work, where she was adjusting the awesome belts they’d given us for Christmas. The drive didn’t seem long, and we didn’t have any problems with security at the airport — once again we managed to get on a flight without having our bags checked for size and weight! The flight landed on time and we had a pleasant chat with the taxi driver who took us to our (pretty basic) accommodation. It was still pretty early (10.30ish) so we headed out for a beer before bed.
Saturday 16/2: After a bit of a sleep in, we walked down to the waterfront of the town where we were staying (Puerto del Carmen) to have a coffee and catch the bus to the port. We were unimpressed with the town, which was everything we don’t like about tourism — a strip of bars and shops selling overpriced imported goods.
The bus trip was better, as it took us we got to see a fair bit of the island of Lanzarote — and most of it is lovely. It’s dry and arid but white villages would suddenly appear behind the many dusky hills; it’d be a great place to go cycling.
Lunch wasn’t up to much but the ferry crossing (with Naviera Armas) was awesome — I saw flying fish! We were collected from the ferry by Frauke, one of the staff at Azul Fit, where we were going to spend the next week.
When we arrived at the villa, Lisa showed us around and told us what our week was going to be like: lots of yoga and Pilates and delicious food. We’d arrived just in time for the first yoga class, in fact, so we hurried downstairs to the yoga room and met Valentina, who was our teacher for most of the yoga classes. There were only two others in the class with us, since the other people who would be spending the week with us hadn’t arrived, but they were trickling in by the time the class ended.
Dinner was absolutely delicious — the chef has recently published a cookbook of vegetarian and vegan recipes, and we got the full benefit of her knowledge.
Sunday 17/2: Our week off began in earnest, and set a good rhythm for the rest of our time on the island: a morning class, followed by brunch, then free time until a 4.30 class and then dinner at 6.30.
During the free time, Craig and I took advantage of a free transfer down to the nearby town of Corralejo, where we visited the handcraft market, wandered along the beach, and had a drink in one of the few bars that had locals in it.
Back at the villa, we took advantage of the gorgeous weather by lazing by the pool in the sun — Craig even went for a swim.
Monday 18/2: Every day at Azul Fit starts with a class, either yoga or Pilates, which is followed by a delicious healthy brunch of fruit salad, cereals, homemade yogurt, bread, and something else like porridge or pancakes… It was different every day. Then there’s another class at 4.30 and most days a delicious vegetarian evening meal is set out at 6:30.
On Monday, Craig and I attended the morning yoga class and ate brunch at the long table with the other guests, who were all lovely, interesting people. Maybe yoga makes you lovely? There were 16 of us in total, and we got to know each other pretty well by the end of the week.
After brunch Craig had a massage and we went for a walk to the local bakery (and managed to get a little lost on the way back, meaning we had a longer walk than we’d planned). Apart from that, we mostly lazed around reading until the afternoon yoga class and meditation session, after which we headed out for dinner with almost everyone else — Monday’s one of the two days when dinner isn’t provided. We ate at a local tapas restaurant, and the food was delicious, if slightly less healthy than what we’d been eating back at the villa.
Tuesday 19/2: It was a cloudy day, which meant that sitting by the pool wasn’t on the cards, so after our Pilates class and brunch most of us lazed around inside. Then we had yoga in the afternoon and another delicious meal in the evening.
Wednesday 20/2: Since all our classes had been held in the yoga room, Craig and I were a little surprised to see everyone spread out on the grass behind the pool on Wednesday morning. This was the Tai Chi class, and it was our favourite so far. Valentina is a great yoga teacher, and Jo’s Pilates classes were really good, but being outside with Paco was brilliant; easy movements but a real challenge nonetheless. Plus the yoga cat made an appearance, weaving in and out of everyone’s legs, which was hilarious.
After brunch, Craig stayed at the villa to relax, but I caught the transfer to the sand dunes with four other guests, and we had a great day enjoying the sun. We found a spot on the sand to sunbathe in and I went for a long walk with Anna before going for a short swim with her and Maria.
Dinner isn’t provided on Wednesday either, so Craig and I headed to the tiny supermarket for supplies and cooked in the outdoor kitchen. Several of the rooms have their own kitchens but ours wasn’t one of them — which mean we had the adventure of cooking outside.
Thursday 21/2: Thursday was the busiest day of the whole week! After our yoga class and brunch, we went on the volcano walk led by Gary, one of the staff at the other Villa Azul property, which is in Corralejo. Two of the guests from there also joined us, and I chatted with each of them during the walk.
It was great, a nice slow climb to the crater and then a walk around the rim. There were chipmunks to feed (Elin gave me a fig and I offered bits to one of them) and shepherds huts to check out, as well as good conversation — I especially enjoyed chatting with Claire on the way back down the hill, while Craig got a potted history of Azul Fit from Gary.
Back at the villa, we had a Pilates class (with big balls) and a delicious dinner, and I’d signed up for the nutrition class with Jo, along with Gaynor, Jennifer and Linda. As well as giving us a talk about nutrition, Jo also showed us how to make a delicious chocolate mouse and healthy chocolate truffles. Yum.
Friday 22/2: As part of the package, Azul Fit guests get one massage during their stay, and we had to sign up for slots during the week. I cleverly saved mine until Friday afternoon, when I knew I’d have a sore back — and it was sooo good. It took place in a little tent in the garden and the masseuse (Neverish) was fantastic, it was one of the best massages I’ve ever had.
Afterwards I spent an hour in the sun in a happy daze, but decided to skip the Pilates class because I didn’t want to undo the good the massage had done. Instead, I had a session with a chiropractor! Richard (another Azul Fit guest) had offered to take a look at my back when he overheard me complaining about it the night before, and since he wasn’t doing Pilates either I took him up on his offer. I really didn’t like the sound of the clicks my neck made when he adjusted it, but my back did feel better afterwards.
Dinner was as delicious as always, and we all sat around chatting for some time after all the food was gone — I think Craig was trying to convince Julie to visit New Zealand while I talked to Amy, Claire and Anna down the other end of the table.
Saturday 23/2: It had been an excellent week, and I would have liked to have stayed for a few more days, but Saturday was our departure day from the Azul Fit villa. I went to the last yoga class while Craig slept in, and we had a last brunch with those who hadn’t already left.
Since Halla, Dave and Joss had hired a car and were heading in the same direction as us, I asked if they could give us a lift as far as the airport, and they kindly said yes. But they didn’t just give us a ride to the airport; Dave also gave us a mini-tour of the parts of the island he’d seen during his morning cycling excursions, and dropped us right at our accommodation. Thanks again, guys!
We were staying in Caleta de Fuste, which seemed to be a tourist town through and through; we certainly heard more English than Spanish. But the room was cheap and the complex has wifi — so we could get back to work. And apart from two trips to supermarkets, that’s what we did.
Sunday 24/2: We’d planned to spend most of the day relaxing by the pool, but the overcast skies encouraged us to stay in and work. We managed to get quite a lot done before a vegetarian lunch (what’s happening to us?!), after which we went for a long windy walk along the coast, then got back to work.
Monday 25/2: Although we weren’t the biggest fans of the tourist complex where we were staying in Puerto Caleta in the Canary Islands, it was cheap and wifi was available in the reception — just a few metres from our room. We spent the morning working, then had a stirfry lunch and went for a walk along the beach before getting back into work.
Tuesday 26/2: Check out was at 12, so we got up early and got a fair bit of work done before we had to leave. We’d noticed an ad for a cheap English breakfast in one of the restaurants on the way to the bus stop, so we broke our week of vegetarianism with bacon, sausage and morcilla.
We spent our time at the airport getting even more work done, and our flight was long but painless. We arrived half an hour ahead of schedule and would have been able to catch an early bus to the centre of Bergamo if the shuttle buses had been ready to ferry us to the terminal. As it was, we had to wait an hour for the next one.
We’d booked a room in a B&B whose reception closes before we were due to arrive, and I hadn’t received a response to my query email. When we arrived, another couple let us in and went to bed, and after confirming that no one was around to check us in (and calling the contact number several times) we decided to leave and find somewhere else to stay. But we couldn’t — we were locked in. The wrought iron gate at the bottom of the stairs was locked tight and we couldn’t see any way of opening it. We had almost decided to sleep on the floor in the breakfast room when someone emerged from one of the rooms and looked at us blankly before going back to bed. Long story short, he let us out (turns out there was a button halfway up the stairs to press), and we made our way to Hostel Central, where we arrived five minutes before their reception closed at 1am. The extremely friendly receptionist found us a room and we fell gratefully asleep soon afterwards.
Wednesday 27/2: We dragged ourselves out of bed and down the stairs, where a very good breakfast by Italian standards was waiting for us: cornflakes, yogurt, juice and coffee. We’d hoped to see a bit of Bergamo before hopping on our first train of the day, but the late night on Tuesday made that impossible. Instead, we headed straight to the station, bought tickets to the border with Austria, and set off.
It was a long day and we had to make several changes, but we eventually arrived in Linz and met up with Sabine at the station. It was so good to see her again! She’d prepared us a tasty meal and we sat up talking for a while before heading to bed.
Thursday 28/2: Sabine had already gone to work by the time we got up, so we worked for a bit then went for a walk around Linz before lunch. Later on, we walked down to meet Sabine at the university library where she works, and she showed us around both the library and the university.
In the evening, Sabine took us out for dinner — the food was delicious and we all ate far too much. Back at home, we played a couple of board games then decided to watch an episode of Downton Abbey — and we were hooked. I didn’t think I’d enjoy it so much, but it’s really very good.
Friday 1/3: Sabine only had to work until 2pm, so we worked too then met her at the library — where she signed me up as a member and gave me another library card for my collection! Somehow we managed to faff around so much when preparing lunch that it wasn’t ready until 4pm — but it was delicious! Sabine made bean fritters and I contributed some guacamole. We spent the rest of the day inside, watching Downton Abbey and playing Monopoly Deal.
Saturday 2/3: After a bit of a sleep-in, Sabine’s mum picked us up and took us out for lunch at a nice restaurant beside a lake. It was quite warm in the sun, so we sat outside, which was great! Afterwards we went for a walk around the lake and had a coffee and strudel before heading back to Linz. In the evening we watched four more episodes of Downton Abbey, with a break for dinner and Monopoly Deal.
Sunday 3/3: Since we’d stayed up so late watching TV the night before, getting up was a little more difficult than we’d have liked. But we managed, and even got packed up, out the door, and to the station in plenty of time for our 10.30 train.
The trip across the country was as pleasant as ever, and we arrived in Mödling in the early afternoon. Luckily the guesthouse owner was around when we arrived, so we checked in then set out to explore the town and have a tasty lunch. In the evening, we tried out another restaurant and watched a bit of TV before bed.
Monday 4/3: Our guesthouse didn’t have wifi, so we spent the morning working offline then had a tasty lunch of Chinese food before finding a cafe to work in for the afternoon. Wine and coffee prices are quite different to what we got used to in Spain — double, more or less.
Tuesday 5/3: After a morning of work, we decided to head to Shopping City Sud, the largest shopping centre in Austria. It took us a while to work out how to get there, since we couldn’t see any signs for it at the bus station, but we worked it out eventually. We managed to find almost everything we were looking for — a new shirt, socks and undies for Craig; stockings and a couple of tops for me, as well as an Austrian SIM card and a few other bits and pieces. We made the mistake of going into Ikea to look for a knife — and couldn’t get out again! I knew they like you to stay as long as possible and see everything on offer, but this was ridiculous.
When we were ready to leave, we couldn’t find the bus stop we needed (and no, it wasn’t just across the road from where we got off!). But after consulting the electronic map and asking two info officers, we eventually found it and made our way home for a tasty dinner of bean salad and guacamole.
Wednesday 6/3: We’re enjoying discovering the Austrian Tagesmenus, which are similar to the Spanish menus del día except that drinks aren’t included and you usually only have one choice. Today we went to an Italian place, where I had the Tagesmenu of chicken wings, coleslaw and a donut, while Craig chose the tagespizza. Yum.
Later on, I went for a run along the river, and while stretching afterwards I found that I could touch my toes! This might not seem like much of an achievement to you, but I’m extremely inflexible and have never been able to do it — and being able to was one of my goals for this year. So, yay!
After that, we recorded the podcast and Craig headed to the cafe in the city to upload it — better late than never!
Thursday 7/3: After a Tagesmenu lunch (mushroom soup then dumplings with sauerkraut), Craig managed to get the Internet working on his phone, which meant we could work from home for the rest of the day.
Friday 8/3: We’d hoped to go for a walk in the afternoon, but spent so much time over our tasty lunch that we couldn’t really fit it in. Instead, we ha icecream at Eis Peter, which is extremely popular — we’d seen hundreds of people go in over the week, many arriving on bicycles. Seems like a nice idea for an outing.
Saturday 9/3: After packing up and checking out, we left our bags in reception and finally headed out on our forest walk. We went through the main part of town, past the church and up a hill until we reached the castle at the top — it was very impressive, with great views of the town below.
After installing ourselves in our Vienna guesthouse, Craig got down to work and I went grocery shopping. I was very excited to find the cinnamon and liquorice Pukka tea that we’d been introduced to at Azul Fit — of course I bought a box, and the first thing I did back at the guesthouse was make myself a cup.
In the evening, we went for a short walk then settled in to do a bit more work — with two guidebooks launching on Monday we’ve been pretty busy.
Sunday 10/3: After a good breakfast, we had to change guesthouses again, which involved walking to the station, taking two s-bahn trains, and walking for another ten minutes. Our new place is very pleasant, with strong wifi and a kitchen — great for cooking dinner in! Of course, since all the shops were shut we ended up having kebabs for lunch and Chinese for dinner, but still — it’ll be good over the next week.
Monday 11/3: Today was the big day: the official launch of our Las Vegas and Buenos Aires guidebooks! We’ve been working on them for quite a while and the launch had been plagued by delays, so we were stoked to finally get them out.
In the afternoon I headed out for a run while Craig continued working — there’s a river near the hotel, which is joined by two or three tributaries a few hundred metres upstream; it was a pretty run.
In the evening we made use of the kitchen facilities in our room to prepare a bean salad and a carrot salad for dinner: yum.
Tuesday 12/3: We decided to have lunch in the hotel restaurant again, since the food was tasty and well-priced, and we ended up chatting with our neighbour at the next table. Well, she mostly chatted at us, since our German isn’t quite conversational yet (to put it mildly), but we understood that she was impressed that we were from New Zealand.
In the evening we walked over to the local brewery for a (tasty) beer, then had dinner back in our room.
Wednesday 13/3: Since we’re making lunch our main meal, we hadn’t wanted to eat a lot at the brewery the night before, but the ribs that another patron was eating had caught our eye. So we headed there for lunch and ordered the “ribs for one person”, which could easily have fed three — we were stuffed by the end of it! I didn’t want to think about how big the “ribs for two” would be.
We spent the afternoon working and relaxing, and watched a bit of TV before bed.
Thursday 14/3: When we woke up in the morning, the world had been transformed — the roofs were covered with snow and flakes were falling softly from the sky.
It wasn’t snowing too heavily when we ventured out, though the novelty wore off pretty quickly and we decided that we’d be better off inside. We did head out again in the evening though — back to the brewery for fish for dinner.
Friday 15/3: Somehow, despite the fact that we’d been working all week, we’d not quite found time to record the podcast that was supposed to go up on Monday. So we recorded it on Friday evening, along with the one for next Monday — time saving at its best! Of course, by this time I had caught my cold, so I probably sound a bit gravelly!
I spent most of the afternoon “studying German” by flicking through the TV channels, while Craig edited and uploaded the podcasts. In the evening we had a light dinner (lentil salad and guacamole) then headed down to the hotel restaurant for a couple of glasses of wine and an apple strudel.
Saturday 16/3: The breakfast put on by the hotel is spectacular, and I’d been enjoying it every day. Craig, however, isn’t so big on breakfast and, after giving it a try on Monday, had eschewed it completely. Today, though, he came down with me in the late morning and we made the most of it — I had muesli with fruit salad followed by scrambled eggs; he had deli meats and cheeses on brown bread, ham and eggs, and a pastry. Delicious.
After checking out at 11, we worked for a while then judged our departure time very badly — we got to the train station five minutes after the last train had left, and had to wait 25 minutes in the cold for the next one.
We’d planned to spend the day exploring Vienna and trying out a new app made by some friends of ours, but I was feeling under the weather and spent the rest of the day in bed while Craig worked.
Sunday 17/3: We’d given our clothes to the guesthouse owner the day before to wash but she hadn’t hung them out to dry. So she put them in the dryer — disaster! My black trousers are creased almost beyond repair and Craig’s brand-new, expensive shirt has shrunk considerably. We’d had a good stay apart from that, but left with a bad taste in our mouths.
Since we love wine so much, a stay in the Weinviertel (Wine Quarter) of Austria is almost compulsory — and Mistelbach is conveniently located in the middle of it. We arrived without any problems and checked into our nice room before a basic lunch (of schnitzel) in the hotel restaurant. Then I went back to bed to recover from my cold and Craig got a fair bit of work done before dinner in a pizza restaurant in town.
Monday 18/3: We worked in the morning then had a delicious lunch in the Harlekin Café, accompanied by a glass of wine of course! Then we explored the town a little, stopping in shops every couple of minutes to get out of the cold. I think this meant we bought more than we’d planned to — we certainly unpacked a lot of dinner food when we got home.
Tuesday 19/3: After another morning of work, we headed to a small restaurant that advertised a Tagesmenu of soup and a main course for only €5.90 — and it was delicious! The onion soup had a dumpling in it, and the main course was a turkey stew with rice. A card on the table was advertising “bieramisu” which Craig couldn’t resist — and fair enough too, it was tasty.
In the evening we decided to make use of one of the hotel facilities, the sauna. It was wonderful and relaxing, but I forgot to take off my glasses until five minutes into the session, and the coating on them cracked, making them unusable. I spent the next half hour buying new ones online.
Wednesday 20/3: Since we’d had such a great meal there on Tuesday, and because Craig liked the look of the menu for today, we headed back to the same restaurant for a lunch of bauerngröst’l. Usually this is mostly potatoes, but this version had about four different types of meat in it, as well as potatoes and chopped-up dumplings. It was delicious and very filling, and we both needed a nap afterwards.
Later on though, we headed out to a heuriger on the edge of town. The “heuriger calendar” had caught our attention on arrival in our hotel, but somehow it took us three days to get to one! Strange, since heurigers are one of Craig’s favourite things in the entire world: farmhouse restaurants serving locally produced meats, cheeses, and other food, accompanied by a healthy pour of local wines. Yum.
The place was packed, and we had to share a table with an older couple who was very patient with our halting German. We managed to make ourselves understood, though, and even understood a fair bit of what they were saying. Brilliant.
Thursday 21/3: Our new favourite restaurant doesn’t offer a Tagesmenu on Thursdays, so we had to look for an alternative. We chose a bakery restaurant, but misread the sign outside — what we thought was a pretty good-value Tagesmenu was really just one slightly overpriced main course. Sad.
Our colds hadn’t quite bitten the dust, so we spent the afternoon inside, working and resting, then had lentil salad for dinner.
Friday 22/3: We’d been planning to go back to the heuriger in the evening, but I just wasn’t up for it. We did have ice-cream in a shop that opened during the week though, which is where I met Sid (it was a little scary). We ended up having a simple dinner in our room, and complete forgot to make use of the sauna again!
Saturday 23/3: After a leisurely breakfast buffet, we packed up and hopped on a series of trains which eventually took us to Linz. While gazing out the window on the first leg of the journey, Craig and I saw lot of deer — several pairs resting in the trees, then a herd of ten or so grazing in a field. It was awesome!
For the trip from Vienna to Linz, we travelled by Westbahn, which offers much cheaper prices than ÖBB for on-the-day travel. The train was pretty full but very pleasant, and we were impressed that the food and drink prices were so reasonable.
Sabine met us at the station, as always (I love that we have an “as always”!), and we dropped off our bags then headed straight out to run some errands. First we visited the Jack Wolfskin store to see about exchanging Craig’s shrunken shirt (they have to send it to Germany for a decision) and then we picked up some groceries for our late lunch of burritos.
We spent the rest of the day playing Phase 10 and watching Downton Abbey, and Sabine baked us a cake — this woman is awesome.
Sunday 24/3: Last time we were in Linz, Sabine’s parents invited us on an excursion that had to be cancelled because her dad was sick. This time, though, he was perfectly healthy, and they invited us over for a delicious lunch of stuffed peppers and ant cake. We also got to meet Sabine’s sister Gabi and her boyfriend Max, which was great! After lunch, we played a version of Yahtzee then headed home for more games and more Downton.
Monday 25/3: It was cold and unpleasant outside, so we stayed in and worked the whole morning. In the afternoon we visited Sabine at work and got her to print some documents for us, and in the evening we played games and watched TV. Fun times.
Tuesday 26/3: Craig spent the morning working but I braved the snow to head to the German consulate, in the hope that they could issue me a working holiday visa. However, they said I had to do it in Vienna (or Germany), so my mission was not a success. Luckily, I had to go to the supermarket so it wasn’t a wasted journey.
Sabine got off work early and we met at the cinema in the late afternoon to see Les Mis. I really enjoyed it, though I thought Hugh Jackman was quite out of tune in the minor songs — he did a great job on the important ones though.
In the evening we had soup for dinner, followed by a tasty Austrian dessert that Sabine prepared. Delicious.
Wednesday 27/3: Sabine didn’t have to be at work until 10.30, so she suggested a pilgrimage to the Haribo shop in Linz’s industrial area. It was amazing to see how many different types of sweets they had available, and we enjoyed filling our bucket with many of them.
We also visited Sabine’s mum in the pharmacy where she worked, to pick up some medicine for my stomach — I think I’d eaten too many sweets over the previous few days.
Back at home, Craig and I recorded the podcast then got down to more work, then spent the evening playing games and watching Sound City, a documentary by Dave Grohl.
Thursday 28/3: Sabine couldn’t believe we were going to be spending Easter with vegans, because we’d miss out on the traditional ham and eggs that Austrians eat. So, she made us a traditional Easter breakfast (complete with dyed eggs) for dinner. It was delicious! After dinner we watched Black Swan and played a couple of games before bed.
Friday 29/3: Since we’d enjoyed our Easter breakfast so much the night before, Sabine re-created it for brunch on Friday morning. She also prepared plates for Craig and me, with real eggs, chocolate eggs, and dark-chocolate bunnies, and hid them for us to find. I haven’t done an Easter egg hunt for about twenty years — it was great! Sadly, though, after brunch and a few rounds of Ligretto, we had to leave.
Our trip to Vienna (with Westbahn again) was smooth, and we met Birgit and Felix in a vegetarian restaurant near the Westbahnhof. We had to run a few errands before hopping on the train back to their place, and we also had time for a coffee in Europa.
Since there were going to be six of us at their place over the weekend, and the shops would be shut for two of the four days of our stay, we visited a couple of supermarkets and stocked up on food, then drove the last stretch to Orth an der Donau. We spent the evening chatting and eating, and turned in relatively early.
Saturday 30/3: Felix and Birgit’s place has changed a fair bit since we were there in October, and it’s starting to look great. The garden looks especially different, mostly because they’d cut down several trees, and on Saturday we cut down two more. Not without issues — the chainsaw got stuck in the first tree and we had to dismantle the fence to let the tree fall on to the neighbours’ property, and the second tree damaged a cherry tree on its way down. But at least we managed!
In the evening Paul and Caro from Germany arrived just as dinner (vegetable strudel) was ready to be served, so we ate together and spent the evening talking.
Sunday 31/3: Our plans to spend the day in the garden were scuttled by the two inches of snow that was on the ground when we got up (late). So we had a long breakfast and watched a movie (the Sightseers), then Birgit, Caro and I painted stones with plant names to be used as markers in the garden.
After a dinner of salads, potatoes and mini-strudels, we taught each other drinking games and played several of them before bed.
Monday 1/4: The weather was a lot better than it had been over the weekend, so Paul and Felix went into the garden to chop down two more trees, while Caro, Birgit and I headed into the forest to collect wild garlic. Orth an der Donau had a festival planned for this very vegetable in a week’s time, when we wouldn’t be there, but at least we could give it a try!
Unfortunately there’s a similar plant, that grows in similar areas, which is very poisonous, so we had to study up a little on what our garlic looks like — the furry underside is the major clue. Once we got to the forest, we wandered around for some time without finding more than a couple of leaves, but then stumbled upon a large patch of large wild garlic plants. It was awesome. We ended up collecting over a kilo between the three of us, and when we got back home Birgit made it into a delicious pesto — combined with spaghetti, it made a great lunch!
In the afternoon, Caro and I made a few more batches of pesto and Birgit made an apple strudel. Felix cooked us a delicious curry for dinner (that was actually hot, a rarity in Austria) and we all sat around talking until late.
Tuesday 2/4: The late night was probably quite ill-advised, since we had to leave the house the next morning at 7.30. We managed, though, and travelled by car and U-bahn into Vienna, all hopping off the train at different stops. Craig and I spent a little time in the Westbahnhof before catching our train to Tullnerbach, where we were surprised by the depth of the snow on the ground.
After exploring the town a little, and having a Tagesmenu in a local cafe, we decided to spend the rest of the day inside, out of the inclement weather (the snow falling was the heaviest we’d ever seen — pretty, but cold) and had dinner in our guesthouse restaurant.
Wednesday 3/4: After a morning of work, we went back to the same cafe for another Tagesmenu, this time of delicious roast pork. The snow was still falling, though, so we made the most of our nice warm room to get a bit more work done in the evening.
Thursday 4/4: Felix had told us that Tullnerbach had a nice lake, but we didn’t have a chance to see it until Thursday, when the temperatures increased to 8º and the snow started to melt. After a third Tagesmenu (of fish) we walked down to the lake and wandered alongside it for about half an hour. Unfortunately we couldn’t go all the way around it, as that would have taken us off the nice walking path and onto the main highway, but it was a lovely walk as it was.
Friday 5/4: I stupidly wore my glasses into the sauna a couple of weeks ago, and when I ordered new ones online, I had them sent to Sabine — in the forlorn hope that they’d arrive in half the time stated on the website. They did arrive this week, though, and I told Sabine we’d drop by her house (on the other side of the country) to pick them up — I didn’t really want them to go into the postal service again, I’ve lost too many things that way!
However, she decided that this idea was totally impractical, and that she and her dad would drop them off to me on Friday afternoon. I completely failed to see how them driving for an hour and a half was more practical than me taking one of oebb’s suggested routes to our next town, but my protests fell on deaf ears. So, we met Sabine and her dad for a coffee in our guesthouse restaurant and she not only gave me my glasses, but spent a lot of time complimenting me on how good they looked.
Saturday 6/4: The fact that our guesthouse didn’t have wifi hadn’t been too much of a problem, since Craig has a great data plan for his phone — and can throw a wifi signal so that I can connect too. However, the month ran out overnight and we didn’t have enough credit to recharge, so we found ourselves without internet access.
I’d checked train times earlier in the week, but only had a schedule that started at 9.45; not too useful, since we headed out the door at 11.15. We followed the route into Vienna and north to Gmünd, but there ran into trouble; we were supposed to catch a bus the last leg of our journey, but it only runs two or three times a day on Saturdays — and the next one wasn’t for four hours.
We pondered our predicament over a lunch of kebabs, then asked the kebab shop owner where we could get a taxi. He said his friend could drive us there for €20, which is what the friendly clerk in the station told us that a taxi would cost. So we hopped into a car with a strange man and were driven into the countryside (not recommended procedure, for your reference). Luckily, there were no problems and he took us right to our hotel — which is AWESOME. The room is a little small, but the service and the extra touches are fantastic — there was apple juice and apples waiting for us in our room, and we were given vouchers for free beer.
Later on, I went for a run around the town, which is unbelievably pretty, then washed my clothes and prepared a lentil salad for dinner. We spent the evening watching TV and reading through the thick information booklet — unfortunately it’s all in German, though!
Sunday 7/4: Breakfast goes until ten, so we headed down around 9.30 to an impressive spread of cereals, fruits, eggs, hams, cheeses, and cakes. I wanted to stay there all day, but too soon I was completely full.
In the afternoon we met up with our contact, Konrad, who showed us around a little; later on his colleague Hubert joined us. We spent a pleasant couple of hours chatting with them and getting to know some of the local beers — something we will certainly continue to do during our stay.
Back home, we had a light dinner then headed downstairs for a sauna. And we finally got around to watching Skyfall, which we rented off iTunes using a voucher my mum gave us for Christmas — thanks Mum!
Monday 8/4: We spent the morning working then had lunch at Willie’s café, which we’d been told was a bit of a “men’s bar”. It wasn’t as bad as all that, but the food was a bit overcooked and not really to our liking.
In the evening we headed down to the sauna again, and spent an hour or so enjoying the heat (and braving the cold shower for contrast).
Tuesday 9/4: There are a surprising number of restaurants in town, but a Turkish/Greek one caught our attention on Tuesday. We both ordered really delicious gyros plates, and the owner kindly packed up the (quite large) remains of my serving — I just couldn’t finish it all. It was all right though — the chicken made a perfect addition to our evening salad.
Craig wanted to play a board game after dinner, but when I didn’t understand his “shall we play a game?” reference, the plan changed and we ended up watching War Games.
Wednesday 10/4: Konrad picked us up in the afternoon and took us to Naturpark Hochmoor (high moor nature park) near Shrems, where we went for a long walk into the forest. Most of the snow on the paths had melted, but there were some icy patches where we had to be careful, and many sections of the woods were still covered in a white blanket — it was really pretty. We managed to take the wrong path at one point, so the walk was a little longer than planned, but that’s pretty normal for Craig and me!
We stopped in Shrems for a beer on the way back to Weitra, where we were joined by Hubert to meet Zedi the nightwatchman. Konrad had told us that Zedi would conduct his tour in German and that Konrad would translate, but after a couple of minutes’ chat in German about his trip to New Zealand, Zedi switched to English and kept speaking it for the whole tour.
The tour was really fantastic. Zedi explained the history of the town, including its founding and importance as the first brewery town in Austria. We saw interesting elements of several old houses, like spy holes, plaques, and stones on the corners of buildings that were placed there to stop horses and carts damaging the walls. We also visited a 16th-century house with a truly spectacular ceiling, and a water cistern that used to supply the town with water and was only rediscovered recently.
I’d say this tour is on par with any tour I’ve done in big cities like London or Prague, and in some ways was even more interesting because I didn’t have any knowledge about the town before we set out — it was all new and exciting. And of course, Zedi’s costume was awesome.
Of course, it wouldn’t have been appropriate to end the tour of a brewery town without having a drink, so we all headed to the Brauhotel for a beer. I finally got to try the seasonal ginger beer, and it was delicious — I’ll definitely have that again.
Thursday 11/4: After a long morning of work, we had a light lunch at home then headed out of town a little for another mini hike on a path called the Gabrielental. It was a lovely walk, though once again there were small patches of ice to navigate; but it just feels so good to be in the forest! Unfortunately it was too cold for us to have a go on the Barefoot Park installations — these are walkways filled with natural products of different textures, that you walk along with bare feet — but I’m hoping that the weather will be warmer at the end of next week.
Friday 12/4: We worked all day, then met Konrad and his workmates Gerhard and Sabine for a few drinks in the evening. Sabine’s husband doesn’t speak much English, so I tried my hardest to speak German — with mediocre results. It was a lovely evening though, though when we came to pay we were surprised to find that all our drinks had surreptitiously been paid for by Konrad and Sabine! These people are just too nice!
Saturday 13/4: We made sure to enjoy the breakfast buffet to the best of our ability, and at 11.30 we were picked up by Konrad and his friend Inger for an excursion to Cesky Budejovice. Weitra is very close to the border with the Czech Republic, so Konrad had offered to take us for a visit.
Inger played the part of tour guide, and we visited the gorgeous main square (making sure not to stand on the gallows stone in the middle of it) and also climbed the Black Tower for fantastic views over the city. We had a Budweiser beer and a light lunch in the brewery restaurant, then checked out a new hotel and wandered along the river.
We still had quite a lot of time left in the day, so Konrad suggested we visit Holašovice, a cute village that is a Unesco World Heritage site. We spent half an hour or so wandering around looking at the beautiful houses, then stopped in at a cafe for a coffee and a Holašovice cake.
After that, it was time to head back to Weitra, where we waved goodbye to Konrad and Inger and spent the evening at home watching “The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus”. What a fantastic day.
Sunday 14/4: We slept in a bit then lingered over breakfast before heading back upstairs to get some work done. I went for a run around town (and I actually mean around the town — I followed the town walls) and soon after I got back we headed out for a long walk along the Gabrielental. We went a bit further than last time, and discovered a few new statues and turns in the river; it was really pleasant.
Back at the hotel, the weather was nice enough to sit outside — IN T-SHIRTS. We were stunned, and had to medicate ourselves with beer and tasty burgers.
We spent the rest of the day inside; working, reading, and watching a bit of TV. Dinner was a muted affair since I’d forgotten to go to the supermarket before our excursion on Saturday and we got back after the shops shut, and we weren’t hungry enough to go out. At least there was chocolate and schnaps for dessert!
If you’re interested in doing the Weitra Nightwatch Tour, it runs every Friday and Saturday from May to August at 8pm, in German. However, if you call Zedi (Ernest Zedebauer) and ask nicely, he’ll probably run one in English for you. Ph: +43 664 51 66 356, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday 15/4: Since the snow had started to melt away, we headed out for a longish walk in the afternoon, along the Gabrielental. We’d walked part of it the previous week, but this time we went a lot further into the forest, following the river and circling back around to where we started by another path.
Tuesday 16/4: Konrad picked us up at around 4pm and took us to the Nebelstein mountain for a bit of hiking. He’d grown up nearby so we thought it’d be pretty straightforward — but no, we managed to get lost! We could see our destination, a mountain hut, at the top of the hill, and there was a wide snowy road leading directly to it. Unfortunately, it ended abruptly about 500m from the top, and we backtracked to find a walking path Konrad remembered. Well, the path we chose certainly wasn’t the right one, because we were wading through knee-deep snow. At one point I put a foot wrong and went in up to my thigh – it was awesome! We eventually made it to the top, and checked out the views from the summit before rewarding ourselves with a beer at the mountain hut. The landlord helped out a bit further by shouting us a schnapps.
We’d arranged to meet several of Konrad’s colleagues for dinner at a local heuriger, and we arrived right on time half an hour late. The food was delicious (jause! jause!), the company was even better, and we had a really nice evening.
Wednesday 17/4: Inger (who we went to Cesky Budejovice with on Saturday) and her friend Ilsa were concerned that we didn’t have any plans for the afternoon, so they offered to take us into Gmünd — we’d been there briefly on our way to Weitra, but you don’t get a very good feeling for a town from its train station. So they took us on a walk through the Blockheide Nature Park, a park filled with interesting rock formations, after which we had an ice cream in the beautiful town square.
The mountain hut landlord had invited Craig and me back to the hut for dinner, so after our ice cream we made our way back to the Nebelstein, where Konrad was waiting for us. We were joined by Gerhard and Barbara and had a lovely evening drinking beer and eating a tasty cheese noodle dish.
What we hadn’t realised when we’d accepted his invitation was that the hut landlord was inviting us in the Austrian sense — he wouldn’t let us pay! Actually, we spent most of the week trying to battle off the incredible generosity of the people we hung out with — it was truly breathtaking, thanks everybody!
Thursday 18/4: It felt like summer paid a visit on Thursday — the temperature hit 25 degrees! We spent most of the day inside though, and when we finally decided to go for a walk and enjoy the sun, it started raining. So we just visited a couple of shops and headed home to do a bit more work. In the evening we had a beer with Konrad and a bunch of his colleagues — the ginger beer that our hotel makes is really something special.
Friday 19/4: Konrad and Inger had both recommended we try the carp at a restaurant in the town square, so we decided to eat there for our last lunch in Weitra. Craig had a schnitzel but I ordered the carp, which was succulent and well prepared — but not at all to my taste. I have learned something important: I don’t like carp.
In the evening we finally went to the vinothek with Konrad and everyone else: Gerhard, Ilsa, Sabine and her husband, Hubert, even Konrad’s wife Eva was there (she works shifts and we hadn’t met her until then). It was a real party and the wine was delicious, I can’t believe we waited until our last night to go! We’ll just have to go back to Weitra.
Saturday 20/4: Unfortunately the bus connections to and from Weitra on the weekend are quite scarce, as we’d discovered two weeks previously when we arrived. There was just one direct bus to Linz, which left at 8.17am — not our preferred time, but it was the only one that made sense. So we took it.
We’d arranged to meet Sabine so she could give us the Jack Wolfskin voucher she’d collected for us (part of the great shirt-shrinking debacle of 2013), and she suggested we go to Ars Electronica Centre. So we did, and it was awesome. We watched a 3D movie about space, got silhouette stickers, and played with all sorts of cool gadgets. Lunch in the restaurant was a bit of a disappointment; the service was poor and my lamb was overcooked. At least dessert was delicious!
Too soon, it was time for us to leave and catch our train to Pettenbach. We had to change at Wels, and made a mistake while looking for our platform; we had to run to get to the right place, and caught the train by the skin of our teeth.
We’d hoped to visit a supermarket and stock up on supplies, but we’d overestimated the size of the town — the closest supermarket is some way away and it closed at 4pm anyway, not at 6pm as I’d expected.
So we had to have dinner at the restaurant attached to our guesthouse. It was delicious, wild garlic soup followed by chicken with asparagus and raclette (very seasonal); it was a tasty way to celebrate our eleventh wedding anniversary.
Later, we wanted to watch a movie and for some reason we ended up renting Pitch Perfect — and it was surprisingly enjoyable.
Sunday 21/4: After a pleasant sleep in, we headed to the restaurant for breakfast; it seemed very basic after the amazing spread we’d had on offer for the previous two weeks. Then we got a bit of work done, and I went for a run and saw all sorts of animals: chickens, enormous hares, even two deer. Later we headed into town to have a look around and had a delicious late lunch in a small restaurant before the long walk back to our place.
Monday 22/4: Apart from working, I also went to the supermarket to stock up on supplies. Our accommodation was a good-sized apartment with its own kitchen, so we made the most of it for preparing dinners.
Tuesday 23/4: We were a day late in recording the podcast, but at least it got done! And since the topic was one of our favourites — New Zealand — there was a lot to say.
After a stirfry dinner, we headed out for a walk in the dusk in the hope of seeing some deer. Sadly, though, it wasn’t to be — all we saw was a large hare and a skittish cat.
Wednesday 24/4: The landscape near our hotel was as flat as a pancake for kilometres in every direction, so we headed towards the mountains in the afternoon to do some hill walking. The weather had heated up enough for us to feel like we really deserved our post-walk beer.
Thursday 25/4: We were thinking about renting another movie to watch in the evening, but couldn’t agree on what to see — I thought The Sound of Music would be appropriate, as our next stop was Salzburg, but Craig was ready with a definite negative. And I wasn’t keen on Planet of the Apes. So we just had dinner and read our books instead.
Friday 26/4: Final days in a place are somehow always hectic, and today was no different. However, we managed to check out without problems and get to the station with time to spare — only to find that there was no ticket machine and that we had to buy our tickets on the train. This was fine, except that the journey was quite bumpy and I kept being knocked around while I was buying the tickets.
We’d arranged to stay with couchsurfers for the first few days, so we caught a bus from Salzburg main station to Steffi and Sebastian’s house and joined them for a light dinner on their outdoor picnic table. Steffi had plans for the evening, but Sebastian invited us to join him and his friends for a couple of beers at a beer garden — and it was awesome! It was a beautiful 15-minute bike ride each way, and we spent most of the time trying to work out when we’d last cycled. We eventually decided that it was two and a half years ago, with Escapegoat tours in Adelaide. Luckily riding a bike is just like… Riding a bike.
After we arrived at the Augustiner Braustubl, buying the beers was another adventure, as they were served by a dour-faced older man straight from a keg. The options were big or small — big being a litre and small being 500ml. There must have been a thousand people in the beer garden, and Sebastian told us that it was a place for everyone: old, young, rich, poor, whatever. The environment was great and we had a really pleasant evening.
Saturday 27/4: Steffi and Sebastian had invited a few people over for a barbecue, but they wouldn’t let us help prepare for it. Instead, we went for a walk along the river we’d cycled over the day before, and got back just as everyone was arriving.
After a delicious lunch, Craig headed to a football game with some of the guys, while I stayed behind to chat and drink various cocktails with the girls. My afternoon was pleasant, but Craig’s was awesome — the game itself was good, but the fans really made it an experience with their chants and dances.
Sebastian supports Austria Salzburg, which has a very interesting history. It was founded in 1933 and played in the second division and premier league until 2005, when it was bought by Red Bull. Red Bull basically just wanted a ticket to the premier league, and rebranded the team with new colours, a new name, and a new logo, and cut ties with the club history and the loyal fan base — who decided to create a new team which kept all the old elements. Unfortunately the new Austria Salzburg had to start way back in the seventh division, as Red Bull had bought their position in the first division, but they’ve been working their way up the ranks steadily and are now in the second position in the third division — and they’ll move up if they finish the season in first place. Since Austria Salzburg won their game and the team in first position only drew theirs, the ranking gap has now been considerably narrowed — and the match finished with euphoria. Craig said he’d never seen so many men look so happy.
When the guys came back, us girls were still sitting around the table chatting. They joined us for awhile and then we all moved inside when it got too cool — which was at 9.30pm! Yay for spring!
Sunday 28/4: Since Steffi and Sebastian are going on a round-the-world trip later in the year, they’re trying to get rid of some of their extra stuff. So they got up at 5am and went to a nearby flea market — luckily they didn’t ask us to help as we would have been more of a hindrance at that time of day! We did go down with Sebastian at around 10am and had a wander around; it was interesting to see what was on offer. I saw a fair few dirndls and pairs of leiderhosen, though Craig wouldn’t let me buy any.
We went for another long walk in the afternoon before heading over to Germany for a pizza dinner with Sebastian’s mum and sister. All in all, it’s been another good week.
Monday 29/4: We had spent the weekend with couchsurfers Steffi and Sebastian, and we started the week by leaving their place and heading across town to check into Villa Cicubo. This small hotel is brand new — it only opened a month ago — and we really liked it. It’s located about five minutes’ walk from the pedestrianised Linzergasse, in an area where there are quite a few other hotels, and the rooms were beautifully decorated.
We’d arranged to meet our contact from the tourism board (Gunda) at the Hotel Sacher, and we spent a pleasant hour or two with her, eating a tasty lunch and talking about what we could do in Salzburg. After that, we stopped into Jack Wolfskin to get Craig a new shirt, then headed back to Villa Cicubo, though we didn’t stay for long — we headed out for a beer with Hana, the daughter of the hotel owners.
Tuesday 30/4: We had arranged to meet our tour guide, Heidi, at 9.30, and since we had problems with the website we started out a little late. Luckily the hotel was only about a 20-minute walk from the meeting point, so we ended up arriving right on time.
Heidi took us into the Panorama Museum, where she explained the history and present of Salzburg with the help of a 200-year-old panoramic painting of the city. As we entered the museum, we activated our 72-hour Salzburg Cards, which we found absolutely awesome — they gave us entrance to almost everything we wanted to do over the next three days, as well as use of public transport to get us all over the city.
After saying goodbye to Heidi and stopping for a quick coffee, we went up the elevators and visited the Mönchsberg modern art museum — which we enjoyed, but didn’t think was worth the €8 entry fee; we only spent about half an hour there. We spent more time walking along the ridge of the hill, enjoying the views and checking out a tower that houses both a restaurant and a youth hostel. The stairs back down the hill led us almost straight to Triangel, a restaurant opposite the Festival Halls, which Heidi had recommended, and which we loved. The food was delicious, well priced, and promptly served, and the servers were friendly and helpful: an all-around win, really.
We had time to visit another modern art museum (the Rupertinium) before heading to the Festival Halls for a 2pm tour; and I enjoyed this gallery more than the other one. The rooms were all quite different: one was like an attic, another like a tool shed; I particularly liked the children’s nursery.
The Festival Hall tour was also good, even if we couldn’t visit one of the halls, the House for Mozart. We did get to see the Rocky Riding School room though, which was fantastic with its galleries cut right into the rock of the mountain. The Large Festival Hall was also nice, but not quite as interesting.
Most of the attractions covered by the Salzburg Card close at 5pm, but we managed to cheat the system a little. We arrived at the Steigel brewery Brauwelt at around 4pm and spent half an hour or so looking at the brewery museums and attractions before settling into the beer garden to enjoy our free “tastes” — and their definition of taste is the most generous I’ve ever encountered: a full 200ml glass. It took us over an hour to order and drink all three of them, so we were there until well after the attraction itself properly closed.
We did have to get some work done in the evening, so we caught the bus home and got down to it.
Wednesday 1/5: Probably Salzburg’s biggest attraction is the castle, which dominates the entire city. We certainly didn’t want to miss it, so we got up early and caught the funicular to the top of the hill soon after it opened. We only had to wait about ten minutes until the start of a personally guided audio tour, which I thought was a great way to deal with groups of tourists from multiple countries. It was a good tour, too, it lasted about half an hour and l learned heaps about the castle and the city as well.
Our next stop within the castle was the main building, which houses several museums. I definitely preferred the marionette museum to the war one, and the general Fortress Museum was quite interesting. After a final wander around the castle grounds, we walked down the steep pathway to a different exit, and headed around to a nunnery located nearby, where we heard the nuns singing on the other side of the wall.
Then, we stopped in at the catacombs for great views over the graveyard and city, then jumped on a river cruise before running through the Nature House natural history museum — we were starting to run out of time! We did have time for a light lunch of Bosna hotdogs at the Balkan Grill, though, after which we walked through the Mirabell Gardens to the bus stop we needed, where we found that our bus would be leaving in five minutes! Considering it only goes once every two hours on a public holiday, this was a serious stroke of luck.
We were headed to the Freilicht Museum, an open-air historical village. It’s more of a family attraction than anything else, and we probably wouldn’t have gone if it hadn’t been May Day. As it was, Gunda had specifically recommended it as THE place to see the maibaum celebrations, and we respected her opinion. Our Salzburg Cards gave us a 20% discount off the entrance price, which was pretty cool, as was seeing all the visitors dressed in lederhosen and dirndls. We stopped in at several of the houses as well, and saw schnapps being made and a waterwheel hard at work. The best part was watching people (mostly young boys) climb the maypole to try to grab a ribbon from one of the wreaths at the top.
Hana and her boyfriend Josh joined us after half an hour or so, and we had a beer and wandered around a little before driving into the middle of nowhere for a spectacularly large and delicious grilled-meat meal.
Thursday 2/5: We were checking out of Villa Cicubo in the afternoon, so we packed up our stuff and put them in their storage area before making another early start. This time, we caught the bus all the way out to Grödig, where we caught a cable car up to the top of the Untersberg mountain. Unfortunately the clouds were quite low, so we couldn’t see too much, and snow was covering the path to the second viewpoint. We wandered around a little and caught a glimpse of a few other peaks, then headed down the hill and on to Hellbrunn castle.
The trick fountains tour was really cool, even though I was trying to be alert I was still caught out several times by jets of water. Next, we climbed the hill behind the palace to see the folk museum before heading into the palace itself, which had a good audio tour; and there were several displays about how the trick fountains worked — so I was glad to have seen (and experienced) them before going into the palace.
Back in the city, we spent some time at the excellent Salzburg museum, then stopped into Mozart’s residence. I found this quite disappointing, perhaps because almost the entire space was being used for an exhibit of Mozart paintings, which I didn’t think was particularly interesting.
After picking up our bags, we headed across town to the house of our second Couchsurfing host, Uwe. He hadn’t gotten home from work yet, but his flatmate Fred let us in and spent an hour chatting with us, which was pretty cool. When Uwe got home, he locked himself in the kitchen and prepared us all an amazing meal then helped us set up our room.
Friday 3/5: Our Salzburg Cards were going to expire at 9.37am, so we left the house early and arrived in the city right on 9am. We’d decided to make Mozart’s birthplace our last stop, and it was well worth it — so much better than the Residence. We spent an hour or so there, then walked to Mirabellplatz to catch our bus to Germany.
We somehow managed to miss our stop, but that was no problem as there was a tourist information office by the terminus, so we could pick up some maps and information about the area, and the walk back to our real destination took us alongside a pleasant river.
Our destination was the Salzwerk salt mines in Berchtesgaden, one of many mines in the area. After picking up our tickets we had to wait an hour or so for the next tour, so we sat in the sun and had a picnic lunch while watching the river flow past.
The tour itself was great, we were all given miners’ overalls and put onto a ride-on train for the journey into the mountain. We had a German-speaking guide with us, and non-German speakers like us were given audioguides in their own language. As well as the train, we also went down two slides, on a boat across an underground lake, and up a funicular railway. The tour was great, as was the discovery room where we used large touchscreens to learn all we ever wanted to know about salt.
After the tour, we wandered through the picturesque town of Berchtesgaden, where I finally replaced by brown fleece with a pretty new black one. Sadly, we arrived at the bus station just as the bus we wanted was leaving — and there wasn’t another one for an hour. So, we decided to walk. The route to the Konigsee is a popular walk, as it’s nice and flat, and very scenic. We arrived just as the bus back to Berchtesgaden was leaving, so we spent an hour at the Konigsee enjoying the views over the lake.
It was a bit of a trek to get back to Salzburg, especially because we couldn’t find one of the bus stops we needed, but we eventually managed it, and had a light salad for dinner.
Saturday 4/5: After a bit of a sleep in, we got a bit of work done before heading out for a guided walk around Liefering with Uwe. He headed home and we walked over to the shopping centre to buy some groceries and to continue the never-ending hunt for trousers (no luck). Uwe was out for the evening so we just watched a movie on TV.
Sunday 5/5: The weather was nice enough to sit outside for lunch, so we enjoyed the sun a bit before heading in to pack our bags. My sister Anna and her husband Mat picked us up at around 3.30pm, and we drove out to the airport to see Hangar Seven, a private aircraft museum out by the airport. My nephew Henry was totally enchanted, and it was a bit difficult to get away!
Our next stop was the Stiegl brewery, which was having its maibaum celebrations a bit late. Their maypole was a lot taller and wider than the one we’d seen at the Freilicht museum, and almost nobody was trying to climb it — which was a bit disappointing. At least the beer was good, we enjoyed a couple of glasses before heading off again.
We’d decided to spend four days in Cesky Krumlov, and I had found a well-priced apartment rental right in the centre of things. Unfortunately the city centre is a maze of one-way streets with restricted access, and we couldn’t find anywhere to park. Eventually, after many adventures, we checked in and Mat and I drove a fair distance to a parking lot on the other side of the castle — by foot, it’s about seven minutes from our apartment, by car it took a good 15.
Anna and Craig had found an open restaurant and ordered our dinner, which arrived not long after we got back into town — and they were a delicious start to our time in Cesky Krumlov.
Monday 6/5: We didn’t really do too much on our first day in Cesky Krumlov apart from wandering around enjoying the town. Since Henry is only two and a half, he moves quite slowly, especially when going over bridges or passing fountains — he has a real fascination for water! The highlights of the day were lunch at the Two Marys and dinner at the Gypsy Bar, though sadly neither was quite as I’d remembered them. The waiter in the Gypsy Bar was positively ogre-like, though he melted completely when Henry said “děkuji” (thank you) in his sweet voice. And the goulash was still delicious.
Tuesday 7/5: Since Anna and Mat had never been to Prague, we decided to drive there for the day. Craig stayed behind, as ITP had crashed again, but the rest of us piled into the car and headed north. Unfortunately, Henry fell asleep just as we entered the city, so we drove around a little until he woke up, then parked the car and started walking.
We got to the Old Town Square just before 1pm, and joined the throng of tourists in front of the Astronomical Clock. Although he’d thought it would be a bit boring, Henry was enchanted by the figures spinning above the clock, as well as the sound of the bell ringing.
We had a delicious lunch one block back from the square, then caught a horse-drawn carriage down to the Charles Bridge (Anna’s idea). The bridge was crowded with portrait-painters, buskers, and tourists, and Henry’s insistence to be shown the river every two minutes meant that it was a slow walk across.
We didn’t have time for much else, so we hopped back in the car and drove to Ceske Budejovice for dinner; Henry enjoyed the fountain in the main square.
Wednesday 8/5: It was our last day in Cesky Krumlov, so we had to do everything we’d been planning on doing but hadn’t done yet. We started with a walk around the palace, then headed back into town to do a short tour of the city and the Eggenberg brewery. The tour ended with a free beer in the brewery restaurant, and the five of us had lunch there too.
One of the things Craig and I had most enjoyed about our previous visit was rafting down the Vltava river, and our enthusiasm rubbed off on the others. Anna was concerned about going down weirs while pregnant, and also about how Henry would handle it, and Mat had hurt his back and didn’t want to aggravate it. In the end, though, we all went — and it was great. The kind owner of Malecek Rafting and Canoe let us rent a raft even though it would mean him working past closing time, and we launched quickly and without any issues.
As for the weirs, it turned out that there was only one — one of the main ones in Cesky Krumlov itself was under construction, so we launched downstream and had a smooth run almost all the way to our pickup point. Just 200m before the end was the one weir — which was awesome. I think we all wanted to do another, but Henry was the most vocal about it.
Back in town, the place we wanted to eat dinner was fully booked, so we chose a pretty average restaurant and made the best of it.
Thursday 9/5: We waved a sad goodbye to Cesky Krumlov and made our way to Linz, where Henry had been promised a ride on the “dragon train” at the top of the Postlingberg. Unfortunately getting to the Postlingberg proved a little more difficult than we’d planned. We’d parked the car near Sabine’s place, where we were going to stay the night, and the walk to the main square was full of tasty distractions in the form of cheese samples and doughnuts — so we just missed a tram. Luckily, another one was leaving in 15 minutes, and even more luckily, it was an old-fashioned one. Unluckily, it broke down just as we were starting up the hill.
After much too-ing and fro-ing, we returned to the old funicular station at the bottom of the hill and piled into an already-full (and not old-fashioned) tram that was waiting for us. This one got us to the top of the hill and we headed straight for the Grottenbahn, where we barely had to wait at all, and where we got seats near the dragon’s tail. Luckily, Henry didn’t seem to mind the delay too much, and completely loved the dragon train — a win!
Anna and Mat had to leave Linz by 5.30 at the latest to be able to catch their plane from Munich, so we had a very fast (and delicious) lunch at the beer garden opposite Sabine’s place, then waved them on their way.
Sabine had planned to accompany us up the Postlingberg, but she was sick and had to pull out. We had arranged to stay at her place, though, and she wouldn’t hear of us changing our plans, so we spent the night at Sabine’s place without Sabine. We spent a fair amount of time chatting with her on Facebook, but it just wasn’t the same.
Friday 10/5: Ugh, rain makes everything more difficult. We had a successful morning of work, then caught the tram to the train station to catch a train to Ceske Budejovice. However, the train cost a lot more than the bus (€18 compared to €12), and a bus was leaving forty minutes later that would arrive at the same time as the train, so we decided to go with that. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find the bus stop, despite being told exactly where it was by the woman in the info centre — it was across the road from a very misleading bus station. Also misleading was the sign at the correct bus stop (we did find it after all) which said the next bus wasn’t for two hours! Just as we were plunging into despair, our bus pulled up, the driver confirmed that he was going where we wanted to go, and we finally got out of the rain and into a warm bus.
The journey was relatively uneventful, and we were able to pick up a few groceries at the bus station before heading to our Couchsurfing hosts’ place. Lucy met us at the door and we chatted with her for an hour or so, then spent the evening working while she studied.
Saturday 11/5: The rain still hadn’t let up, but we wanted to see a bit more of the city, so we walked around town for a while before having lunch at Masné Krámy, where we went with Konrad and Inger several weeks ago.
When we returned, our other Couchsurfing host, Jana, was back — she’d spent the night at her parents’ place in a small town nearby. We chatted with her for a while, but she had to study too, so we worked a little then went out for a long walk along the river — where we stumbled across a music festival! We didn’t stay for long, but one of the bands was really good.
Sunday 12/5: After a bit of a sleep in (it was Sunday, after all), we followed Jana’s suggestion and walked to Hluboká castle. Unfortunately, though the sky was blue when we set out, it didn’t stay that way, and we were quite happy that we’d brought the umbrella with us. Luckily there were a couple of towns along the route, and we stopped at a canalside restaurant for a delicious lunch and at another cafe for a terrible coffee.
We spent an hour or so checking out the castle and grounds, and rejected the idea of walking home because the weather decided to turn nasty again (and I already had wet socks). The info centre furnished us with bus times, and we chatted with a friendly older lady while we were waiting for the bus.
Back in town, we had a glass of wine in a warm cafe before heading back to Jana’s place, where we spent some time with her before a relaxed evening in.
Monday 13/5: Our last morning in Ceske Budejovice was mainly filled with work and errands; we had to visit the supermarket, buy some bus tickets, and get prepared for our next destination.
After lunch, we said goodbye to our Couchsurfing host Jana and headed to the bus station, where we caught a bus to Brno. The journey took almost four hours, but it was comfortable enough, and we were met at the station by our next host, Mike. He was also hosting a couple of French guys, and we all headed straight to a brand-new cafe for an English-speaking meetup; we met all sorts of cool people and spent a pleasant evening chatting with them.
Tuesday 14/5: It was a beautiful morning and Mike cooked us all bacon and eggs for breakfast, which we ate on the sunny terrace. We then said goodbye to the French guys, who were leaving, and headed out to explore Brno. Our first stop was the castle, which offered good views of the city; we also visited various squares and stopped in at the tourism office.
After a kebab lunch, we found a cafe and got an hour or so’s work done before stopping off at home and convincing Mike to come out with us for the evening. We’d been invited to a board game club by another couchsurfer, Petr, and we had a fantastic evening playing games with him and his girlfriend Zuzana. Neither of us won any of the three games we played, but we did get to meet Vlaada Chvátil, the author of several popular games, which was awesome!
Wednesday 15/5: We’d had several plans for the day, but none of them ended up working out. First, we’d hoped to do a tour of the cellars under the cabbage market, but we’d just missed a tour when we arrived. Next, we wanted to go to the Unesco World Heritage village of Mikulov, but we’d thought it was 30 minutes away by bus and it’s really about 90 — and by the time we arrived at the bus station in the early afternoon, there wasn’t time to get there and back and see the village. Instead, we went to the supermarket, stopped at home to drop off the groceries, went for a walk, and had a beer at the bar we’d gone to on Monday.
Back at home, we had summer rolls for dinner with Mike and his flatmate Eva, then played a few games of Monopoly Deal before bed.
Thursday 16/5: Getting up was a bit of a challenge, but we succeeded, and even got to the cabbage market in time for the 10.30 tour of the cellar labyrinth. There were about 20 people on the tour with us, mostly Czech-speaking, and the tour was conducted in Czech. We were given audio guides to listen to while the guide spoke; a great idea for keeping the tour moving — I hate dual-language tours. Unfortunately though, the English recording was quite dull — interesting information presented in a monotone. It was really interesting to see the cellars and learn about their history and current use.
After a lunch of hole-in-the-wall hamburgers eaten in the main square, we wandered through the city a little more then went back to Mike’s place to collect our bags. Somehow it took us longer to pack up and leave than we’d expected, but we got to the train station just in time to catch our train to Olomouc.
We were met on the platform by Terka and her three-year-old son Jaroshek, who were going to be our hosts for the next three days. The walk to their place took us through the picturesque town centre, and Terka explained what some of the monuments and buildings were as we walked.
We spent the evening chatting and getting to know each other (and also playing Carcassonne) and for dinner Terka put together a delicious pastry dish made with the famous local cheese — yum!
Friday 17/5: Terka had to be at work at 9am, so we decided to spend the day working as well. We holed up in the Kia Ora cafe (which is so-named because its owners met in New Zealand) and tried various types of coffee prepared in two different styles; it was great. After lunch of Chinese food in a small restaurant, we found another cafe and got a bit more work done before meeting back at Terka’s place at 4pm.
Jaroshek loves towers, and he wanted to show us his favourite one: the tower of St Maurice’s church. So headed out again straight away, and got a great view of the city from the top of the tower. Back at home, we relaxed, ate dinner, and spent the evening chatting.
Saturday 18/5: Terka had promised us a Czech-style lunch, and she certainly delivered. First up was carrot soup, which was followed by pasta — but instead of a savoury sauce, we sprinkled poppyseed mixed with sugar over it, and stirred in a spoonful of butter. It probably wasn’t the healthiest of dishes, but it was tasty!
In the afternoon Terka and Jaroshek took us for a walk around town. We visited several churches (including a climb to St Michala’s belfry) then headed down to the botanical gardens. The plants were pretty, but Jaroshek was more interested in the turtle and frogs in the first pond we came to, and in the playground installations in the rose garden. Craig and I made the mistake of joining him on the roundabout — I felt dizzy for ages afterwards.
Our walk back home took us through the town wall gardens and through the town itself; it was a lovely way to spend the afternoon.
In the evening we introduced Terka to Monopoly Deal and then played a couple of games of Carcassonne with expansions; in the last game we all finished within one point of each other (obviously we’re all awesome).
Sunday 19/5: Craig and I got an hour’s work done while Terka and Jaroshek were at church, and we met up with them at 10am to visit a couple of museums. The first, the Archdiocese Museum, was surprisingly extensive and interesting, and the modern art museum had a great exhibit of monstrous (fake) creatures. We didn’t have much time at the modern art museum because I really wanted to see the astronomical clock play, which it only does at midday. We got there on time, but it was a bit of a disappointment. Ah well.
After lunch we said goodbye to Terka and Jaroshek and headed to a cafe to work a little more. We had been planning to go to Prague but, as always, things changed and we decided to stay just one more night in Olomouc with a different couchsurfing host, Karin. We met her at 5pm and spent a lovely evening with her and her boyfriend Honza — they took us up the Holy Hill for a walk through the forest and dinner in a restaurant garden, after which we caught the train back into town and had a beer in a brewery right by Terka’s place. We’d been 100m from a microbrewery and never knew it!
Monday 20/5: Our Olomouc Couchsurfing host Karin had to start work early, but she left us her keys so that we could sleep in — and it was glorious! We stopped at the town hall to buy some Olomouc cheese for the journey to Prague, met Karin at her workplace to give her the keys, then caught a tram to the train station.
Karin’s boyfriend Honza had done some research into transport options for us the night before; he’d found that the Leo Express train was marginally cheaper than the other choices, so we went with that. This was a great decision: we’re always more comfortable on a train than a bus, and the Leo Express train was a lot cleaner and newer than the Czech Rail train we’d caught a few days previously. Win.
In Prague, we went straight to our hostel, Mosaic House, where they let us check in an hour early. We’d been given a spectacular double room on the top floor with views of the castle — and robes! It was the first time I’d ever had a robe in a hotel room, so exciting! (Actually I found it too big and heavy to really enjoy, but the thought was there.)
After eating lunch on the balcony and working for a couple of hours, we went for a walk across the river and to the top of Petrin Hill. The park was quite busy with locals walking and running, but it felt very far away from tourist-packed Prague just below.
In the evening, I spoke to Oliva and my mum, and we had a light dinner in our room before bed.
Tuesday 21/5: Check-out wasn’t until 12, but breakfast ended at 10.30, so we had to get up at a reasonable hour in order to make the most of it.
As always, we left packing to the last minute, and had to check out a little late. We’d arranged to spend the next three days with my Chilean friend Moroni, and since he’d said he’d lock us out if we didn’t arrive before 1pm, we had to rush! Luckily we didn’t have any problems and even got there a little early.
Moroni wanted to take us to a favourite brewery of his in Slany, so we said goodbye to Mirka and headed out. Getting there was a bit of a mission — we had to take two metros and a bus — but we made it eventually and spent the afternoon trying all the beers on offer. Craig somehow managed to get himself an impromptu tour with the brewer, who didn’t speak much English but was very enthusiastic about his craft.
On the way home, we stopped in the city to change some money then picked up KFC for dinner.
Wednesday 22/5: Every Wednesday there’s a farmers market near Moroni and Mirka’s place, so I headed over with them in the morning before Moroni went to work. We mostly bought vegetables, and even found coriander for pebre — a huge win!
Craig and I spent the rest of the day at home working while Mirka studied, though I did go to the supermarket twice to pick up things for dinner. In the evening, we introduced the others to the joys of Monopoy Deal; they caught on fast and we all won at least one game each.
Thursday 23/5: Thursday was more or less a repeat of Wednesday: Moroni went to work, Craig and I stayed in, Mirka studied. We decided to make a broccoli cheese bake for dinner (and pebre of course), and we found Olomouc cheese in the supermarket! The dinner came out really well, thanks to Craig’s superior cooking skills.
We spent most of the evening playing Monopoly Deal, and Mirka showed us that she’d really got the hang of it, winning four of the eight games we played.
Friday 24/5: We had to catch a flight at 10.45, so we headed out the door at 8pm and had a smooth run to the airport. Apart from long security lines and a slight delay on takeoff, everything went well there, and our Wizz Air flight was short and a bit cramped.
We arrived in Bergamo airport and caught a coach into Milan, where we spent an hour holed up in McDonald’s (€1 salads with cute bottles of olive oil!) before catching a train to Bologna; from there we went to Ravenna, and from there to Cesenatico. On the last of the trains we met Adam, who was heading in the same direction for the blogging trip we were going on. It was great to meet him and get to know him a little, especially since he lives in Berlin, where we’re going to spend the summer.
Saturday 25/5: We didn’t have to meet the other bloggers and the tour organisers until 4pm, so we’d planned to use the bikes the hotel had provided to see a little of the town. But unfortunately the weather was inclement, so we spent the morning working then had lunch in the hotel (which has a really great salad bar). After lunch, Alex took us on a little cycling tour of Cesenatico and we ducked into a fishermen’s bar when it started to rain again.
We met the others at the maritime museum, where we were given a fantastic tour. The guide not only told us about the boats on display in the canal and about the exhibits in the inside section, but also gave us a concise history of the town. After the museum and adjoining antiquarium, we braved the drizzle for a short walk around the centre of Cesenatico — it’s so pretty.
Craig and I had to go back to the museum to collect our bikes, and we took the chance to cycle down to the beach and see the bagnos — not really my idea of a good time! We ended up about 15m from where we wanted to be, but on the wrong side of the canal; it was a ten-minute ride to get to the right side.
Dinner was at the Hotel Miramare with all the other bloggers; I talked with Jessica, Teresa, Adam, Alexandra and Julia for half the time, then decamped to the other end of the table where the Spaniards were sitting: Alicia, Sara, and Alberto.
Sunday 26/5: Somehow we’d got to bed late the night before, so getting up was a small challenge to be overcome. Luckily our meeting time was 10.30, so by leaving the hotel at 9.45am, we had time to visit a small farmers market and buy some strawberries before meeting the others at the boat. Our morning excursion was a trip on one of the maritime museum’s flat-bottomed boats; a huge honour since it’s not often taken out of the canal. It was a really pleasant hour-long journey, though the best part was coming back along the canal to its moorings. All the museum boats had their sails up, which was a fantastic sight to see — they’d been down on Saturday because of the bad weather.
Lunch was another communal affair in a large tent beside the maritime museum: a delicious fish risotto with sardines and piadine. People started to drift off afterwards but we stuck with a small group of dedicated bloggers who wanted gelato and a coffee; we found a pleasant canal-side cafe and spent a couple of hours there.
When looking at our map, Craig and I had noticed a large park near our hotel, so we decided to cycle around it before going back to the hotel. We spent about half an hour in the park, and timed our arrival at the hotel to coincide with the onset of a small thunderstorm: quite good timing, I thought. We spent the afternoon relaxing and had a pleasant last dinner with Alex before retiring.
Monday 27/5: We’d spent the weekend in Cesenatico, Italy, as part of a blog trip, and although the weather hadn’t been the best, we’d had a good time. As always though, we delayed our departure a little too long, and found ourselves jogging the last couple of hundred metres to the train station. There, the sole functioning ticket machine didn’t want to accept cash or either of our New Zealand credit cards; we finally placated it with our little-used backup UK card.
Oscar, one of the other blog trip participants, was on the same train as as for part of the way to Bologna, so we had a pleasant chat with him as far as Ravenna. Once we arrived in Bologna, we headed to the international counter to buy our tickets to Munich — only to find that the train was completely full! We’d put off buying our tickets just in case our plans changed — a bad decision. Luckily there was another option that got us to Munich a couple of hours later and didn’t cost any more.
We arrived at our hotel at around 9pm, where we were told that our booking had been cancelled because they hadn’t been able to process the payment on our credit card. Admittedly, they had tried to contact us by phone and email, but as we were travelling all day without internet access or a working phone, they couldn’t get in touch.
They could still check us in though, in an inferior room and a higher rate. We decided to stay anyway, since it was quite late and we didn’t want to trawl the city looking for another option, but we were seriously unimpressed. I was even more unhappy when the internet didn’t work. At least the beds were comfortable and we both got a good night’s sleep.
Tuesday 28/5: Our first stop of the morning was a meeting with Christian and Christina of the tourism board, who gave us a lot of valuable information about what we could do in the city, and went out of their way to find out where we could get free wifi access — it’s not too common here, even in cafes. However, we found a good connection in a bookshop cafe on the Marienplatz, and it also turns out that a free wifi connection has just recently been installed in the square itself.
At 1.30pm we met our tour guide Birgit for a really good walking tour of the city. She explained the glockenspiel and some of the history of the city, and took us to churches and points of interest all over the place. The best stop was at the English Garden, where we watched the surfers surf the static wave and ended our tour.
We said goodbye to Birgit and followed her directions into the garden; as it was a beautiful day the lawns were full of people sunbathing and doing sports — we even saw one or two people braving the gelid waters of the Isar River. We decided to stay dry, though, and instead had a beer in the beer garden by the Chinese Tower, along with two thousand or so other tourists.
Our walk back to our hotel took us back through the city, and we also glimpsed a large park down a side street. I decided to go for a run and this seemed like a logical place to do it — and a lot of other people had the same idea. As well as runners I saw kiteboarders, people doing aerobics or walking dogs, and people playing pingpong. Later I learned that this is the site of the famous Octoberfest — there’s certainly plenty of space for it. In the evening Craig cooked a delicious omelette in the mini kitchen and we watched a bit of TV before bed.
Wednesday 29/5: I want to apply for a working holiday visa for Germany, so I got my documents together and headed to the immigration office, which was only a five-minute walk from the hotel. Unfortunately the office I needed is closed on Wednesdays, and Thursday was a public holiday — looks like I’ll have to wait until we get to Nuremberg.
We did a couple of hours’ work then walked to our Couchsurfing hosts’ house, which was only about ten minutes from the hotel. Jessy met us at the door and we left our bags with her, but we didn’t stay for long as she works from home. Instead, we caught the U-bahn to the main station and jumped on a Grey Line hop-on hop-off bus tour. This kind of tour isn’t my favourite way of seeing a city, but since it was a pretty rainy day it was nice to be “inside”. We jumped off the bus at the first stop, the Nymphenberg Palace, and spent an hour there. The free-to-enter information room was great, but we didn’t think the royal apartments were worth the entrance fee — perhaps it’s just because we’ve seen so many palaces recently.
We would have liked to wander around the grounds, but the wind was icy and the drizzle depressing. So we hopped back on the bus and got off at the next stop, BMW World. Neither of us are into cars, but we really enjoyed our half hour there. We didn’t visit the museum or do a tour, but the showroom area is well set up for visitors with lots of interesting displays. And just before we left, staff put up barriers and a guy drove around the whole showroom (including up and down stairs) on a motorbike.
We walked over to Olympiapark, where the 1972 Olympic Games were held, and found a warm spot out of the rain to eat our packed lunch. Then we just wandered around for half an hour or so, laughing at the people trying to balance in the water balls on the lake, and peering into the stadiums.
We had to run to get to the bus stop in time, but we made it and caught the bus back to the main station, where we had to change to another one to do the inner circle part of the route. We didn’t hop off at all during this part, we just enjoyed the commentary and looked for buildings and sights we’d already seen.
We got off the bus one stop before the end, at Karlstor, and walked down the pedestrian street towards Marienplatz. Along the way, we stopped in at the iconic Frauenkirche; I loved the stained glass windows.
We arrived at Marienplatz just ten minutes before 5pm, so we waited in the crowd of tourists for the glockenspiel to play. I appreciated Birgit’s explanation of what was going on — it meant that I could cheer for the Bavarian jouster figure and celebrate when he won his battle.
I wanted to make pebre for dinner, so we stopped at the Victualienmarkt for coriander and visited a couple of supermarkets on the way home. There, we met Gwendoline and Antony from France, who were also staying with Jessy and Bernd, and Bernd himself came home not long after. We were joined by three other friends and spent the evening eating pizza and playing the werewolf game that Craig and I first played in Jerez.
Thursday 30/5: Since we’d stayed up quite late the day before, we slept in and spent the morning lazing around. It was a public holiday so Jessy and Bernd were at home, and we chatted with them until around 12.30pm, when we finally headed out the door. After kebabs for lunch, we caught the U-bahn to Konigsplatz then met listener Johannes at the Lowenbrau brewery for a few beers. The beer was good but expensive, but the company was great — Johannes gave us all sorts of good tips about the city, and took us for a walk through the student district to the university. He’d hoped to show us inside, but as it was a public holiday all the buildings were locked up; instead he showed us a memorial to the White Rose group and told us about the Scholl siblings, who were members of the group and who were executed for their resistance to the Second World War.
Back at home, we ate dinner with Jessy and Bernd, then spent the evening playing Settlers of Catan — it’s been a while since we’ve played.
Friday 31/5: We managed to get a little work and administration done in the morning, then headed out into the drizzle to see a tiny bit more of Munich. We walked across the Octoberfest grounds and stopped by the Hauptbahnhof, then dropped into the Augustiner brewery. Unfortunately it was too rainy to sit in the beer garden, but the inside area was nice too.
We caught a tram back to the city, where we finally managed to get a German SIM card — victory! Craig’s excited about being able to share photos and videos again. After our extended stop at the Vodafone shop, we climbed the 300+ steps of the St. Peter’s tower, which was definitely worth the €1.50 entrance fee: the views over the city were spectacular and I really enjoyed identifying places we’d already visited.
By this time it was raining again so we headed home for a coffee and an hour in the dry, but soon we had to head out again. Everyone we’d spoken to had recommended that we visit the Lenbachhaus art museum, and we’d arranged to meet Bernd there after he finished work. It has only recently been reopened after years of renovation, and we were all very impressed by it — the art was fantastic and the curation really made the most of it. It’s not huge — we only spent about an hour and a half there — but I’d say it’s worth the €10 entrance fee.
I particularly enjoyed learning about and seeing the work of the Blue Rider group of artists, who worked in and around Munich in the early twentieth century.
Back home, Bernd cooked traditional Bavarian white sausages for dinner, and we were joined by their Canadian friend Rachel for an evening of board games and conversation.
Saturday 1/6: Because we’re muppets, we didn’t realise that our German Rail pass (provided by ACP Rail) is valid from June 3, which was our the day we originally planned to start travelling during our Indie Germany trip. But we changed our plans and decided to head to Nuremberg two days early, and of course we couldn’t use the pass before its period of validity. However, as problems go this is a pretty minor one, since there’s an excellent transport pass available in Bavaria called the Bayern Ticket, which works out considerably cheaper than the per-day price of the German Rail Pass. It’s only €22 for the first person and €4 extra for each additional passenger (to a total of five people). You can’t use the fast trains but underground train and bus transport is included; for €13 each it’s very good value. So we decided to buy one of those instead and use our German Rail Pass day for a day trip after we arrive in Berlin.
Our first stop of the day was Dachau, the site of one of the first and largest Nazi concentration camps. We only had two hours to spend there and it certainly wasn’t enough — you could easily spend three or four hours in the complex and still have more to see. It was a sobering experience but well presented. We got an audioguide but I think I’d have preferred to do a guided tour for the personal touch — and all the guides we overheard as we passed their groups sounded great.
Unfortunately our train from Dachau back to Munich was delayed by six minutes, which meant we missed our connection by about 20 seconds and had to wait an hour for the next one. This meant we had less time than we would have liked in our next stop, Regensburg, which is a really pretty little town. The rain came and went during our two hours there, which wasn’t too pleasant, but at least we had time to see the main sights: the old stone bridge, the cathedral, and the Thurn and Taxis palace. Plus our walk back to the train station took us through a lovely park.
On arrival in Nuremburg, we found a tourist information office and found out how to get to our Couchsurfing host’s house by public transport — and the Bayern Ticket was valid here too! Our host Kadda welcomed us in and made us a delicious dinner, and we had a couple of hours to get to know each other before she headed out to a concert with a friend of hers.
Sunday 2/6: Ahhh, a Sunday at long last! We all slept in late then spent the day mostly inside — Kadda had to write a 20-page essay and Craig and I just wanted to stay out of the rain. It turned out to be a very productive day for a change!
In the evening, some friends of Kadda’s joined us and we cooked dinner together then watched Tatort, a German TV show which is an institution in itself. Perhaps it might need to be part of our Sunday-evening ritual while we’re here!
Monday 3/6: Our very first act of the week was to head to the immigration office to attempt to apply for a working holiday visa; of course this was a complete waste of time. To get one, I’d first need to register as a resident of Nuremberg, which isn’t possible — I’m not a resident! Apparently I could go through the NZ consulate in Berlin or Hamburg, but as we’re arriving in those cities after my 31st birthday, it’s a no-go. At least we have a backup plan: I can apply for residency as the wife of a UK citizen. I just thought that the working holiday visa would be easier – ha!
It was spitting a little but we decided to explore the city anyway, and visited the market in the Hauptplatz as well as a handcraft market. Then we stopped into the tourist office and picked up the press kit that our contact Karola had put together for us and fought the rain until we found a great cafe (the Wanderer) to examine it in — and it was awesome! As well as a bunch of great brochures, there was a book about how to spend three days in Nuremberg and a cute Albrecht Dürer Playmobil figurine.
Before heading back to Kadda’s place for lunch, we watched the glockenspiel on the Frauenkirche; it was really good.
We spent the rest of the day working, then had dinner with Kadda and her flatmate Tanya, and Craig smashed us all at a game of Wizard.
Tuesday 4/6: We’d arranged to meet Wolfram of the tourism board at 10am, and only got a little lost on our way there. The meeting went well; he, Susanne and Karola were all very helpful and gave us lots of information about how we could spend the rest of our time in Nuremberg — there’s such a lot to do!
We crossed the road to the Craftsmen’s courtyard for a snack of Drei im Weckla, Nuremberg’s favourite tiny sausages in a bun. Then we used our Nuremberg Cards to spent a couple of hours in the Railway and Communication Museums and stopped at the supermarket before having lunch back at Kadda’s. Then we packed up and moved house — we were spending the rest of the week at the Youth Hostel.
The hostel is housed in the castle’s former stables, and our room was on the seventh floor in a section called Luginsland, which includes a tower. We had a great view over the city and the room was really well decorated and equipped.
After making our beds, hiring some towels and lamenting the fact that the wifi didn’t reach us, we unpacked our bags and discovered that we had lost our camera-battery charger. Craig had suspected this to be the case for a few days but it was sadly confirmed when we checked every pocket of both our bags. So, after an hour at Albrecht Dürer’s House, we spent the rest of the afternoon looking for a replacement. A large store called Saturn offered a bulky two-part option, and a smaller shop had two very expensive (and big) choices. So we caught the U-bahn (and got separated on the way) to a shopping centre that had a MediaMarkt and found a not-so-bad charger for a reasonable price, and bought it.
We were pretty tired by this time, so we had dinner in a small restaurant and headed home for the evening.
Wednesday 5/6: Our plan for the day was to get our heads around Nuremberg’s Nazi heritage, so we headed out to the Documentation Centre at the Nazi Party Rally Grounds. The exhibition was excellent and the audioguides really helped us to understand the lead up to the Second World War and Nuremberg’s role in it.
Next, we U-bahned across town to the Memorium Nuremberg Trials, which was interesting but not as moving as the doco centre.
After a quick lunch, we headed back into the central city to join a tour of the underground cellars. The tour was conducted in German but we were given audioguides; it was really interesting to learn about why the cellars were built and how they were used in the war.
We had a short rest at the hostel before heading out again; this time, the theme was art. We only had half an hour at the design museum before it closed, but that was enough to see everything; the museum of contemporary art was open later but half an hour was enough there too. After a beer in the beer garden in the ArtCultureQuarter, we headed to the Germanishes Nationalmuseum, which was fantastic. Of course we got horribly lost inside its vast interior, but we did manage to see the Rembrandt prints and paintings, several works by Dürer, and the two oldest globes in the world, as well as a LOT of other exhibits.
Back at the hostel, we put together a salad for dinner and collapsed, exhausted, into bed.
Thursday 6/6: We’d hoped to see the inside of the castle whose stable we were staying in, but it was closed for works and we couldn’t go in. Instead, we signed up for a tour that would take us underneath it, and headed to the Fembo museum. This was surprisingly good; it’s a museum of the city housed in an old merchant’s house, and would be a great first stop on a visit to Nuremberg to get your head around its geography and history.
We stopped in at the Toy Museum, which was better than Craig had expected and not as good and I had, and walked down to Glocklein restaurant for lunch with Wolfram — sausages and beer are traditional!
We didn’t have much time at the Tower of the Senses, but it was definitely enjoyable, as was the Casemates and Water Conduits underground tour we did immediately afterwards. When that finished we caught a tram to the zoo; although we had only an hour or so there before it closed, we made the most of it — the best part was seeing the manatees.
On the way home we stopped at two different grills to have a Drei im Weckla in each; Craig wanted to do some comparison shopping. They were both delicious.
Friday 7/6: We’d hoped to have a glorious sleep in after our crazy days of tourism, but the most logical train to catch left at 9:30, so we had to get up pretty early. At the train station, we skipped the queue of forty or so people and went to the first-class desk to have our German Rail Passes validated, then hopped on our first official train of IndieGermany. The journey to Koblenz took about three hours, during which we both worked feverishly to finish writing articles and reviews about Nuremberg; we had time to see the Lorelei rock and the Rhine in flood, though.
This flooding has been affecting people all over Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic, but there had been no evidence of it in Nuremberg. It did affect us today though: we can use our German Rail Passes on some boats on the Rhine and Mainz rivers, and we’d planned to do the last leg of our journey from Nuremberg to Bonn by boat. I’d suspected that services might be disrupted so had sent a query email to the boat company, but got no reply, and since our friend Richard in Bonn said that most boats seemed to be running normally, we showed up in Koblenz expecting to leave on a boat. Nope. Apparently services were going to resume the next day.
We were feeling tired and annoyed, so found a restaurant for lunch then set ourselves up in a shady part of the park bordering the Rhine. It was a beautiful day and just lying on the grass felt like the best thing we could possibly be doing.
Eventually it was time to go, and we made our way to Bonn (with a slightly error-filled stop in Cologne) and met our friend and host Richard at a great bar called Pendel. It was warm enough to be outside in short sleeves, we had beer, life was good.
Saturday 8/6: Ahhh, the joy of a sleep in! The only thing that could make it better would be a cooked breakfast — and Richard made us one. Then he took us for a short tour of the city before heading to work; we stopped in at the tourist office to pick up some Welcome Cards and information, then spent an hour or so at home working before heading out to use them. We’d planned to visit the Konig Museum, which we though was a zoo (it isn’t) and as it was pelting down with rain when we came out of the underground station, we decided to choose another option. This second option wasn’t at all where it was marked on the map, so we headed back the way we came to a third choice: the Kunsthalle art gallery. I was feeling frustrated and annoyed so Craig medicated me with coffee before we entered the exhibition; it was about the Iroquois of North America and was quite interesting.
Back home, Craig cooked dinner and later on he headed out alone to join Richard at a bar to celebrate a friend’s birthday; he had a good time and even spoke a bit of Spanish. In the meantime, I stayed in and read my book.
Sunday 9/6: After another sleep in, Craig and I headed out to visit Beethoven’s birthplace — it’s kind of an important stop on a visit to Bonn. We weren’t too impressed with the museum itself, but loved the 21st-century version of one of Beethoven’s operas which is presented in the basement. We were given 3D glasses and could interact with the characters, who were all represented by different shapes.
Back home, we had lunch with Richard then headed out again to see some more museums. Both the Stadt Museum and the Egyptian Museum were a little disappointing because there wasn’t enough information in English, though the artefacts on display were interesting to see. The next two museums more than made up for it, though. At the Konig Museum, which is a well-curated zoological museum and not a zoo at all, we were given brand-new audio guides, which need a bit of work but really added to the experience. And the Haus der Geschichte, which deals with German history after World War Two, was a world-class museum with one of the best audioguides I’ve heard for some time: well acted and with texts of appropriate lengths — and all for free. Craig and I both agreed that we’d have happily paid €10 for entrance.
Our Welcome Cards had expired by this time so we couldn’t use them for public transport any more, so we walked back to Richard’s via the city centre.
Monday 10/6: We’d spent the weekend in Bonn with our friend Richard, and our only task for the day was to get to Cologne — just half an hour away by train. After a sleep in, Richard prepared croissants for breakfast then took us to a favourite cafe of his, where I was given the largest coffee ever — I only got halfway through it.
We stopped off at Richard’s to pick up our bags then headed to the Münster to meet my language-exchange friend Andreas for a drink in the square. Then we said goodbye to Richard and Andreas, Craig and I caught the train towards Cologne.
I met Andreas when I was first starting to study Spanish, and he has been overwhelmingly lovely and encouraging about my efforts to learn German. On the train, he and I spoke German the entire way — it was a very basic conversation but still a conversation!
In Cologne we made our way to Hostel Köln, where we would be staying for the next four nights. We were impressed by the room layout (a double bed and a set of bunks) as well as the fact that there was a strong wifi signal in our room on the seventh floor.
We spent the rest of the day downstairs in a pleasant corner of the lobby, catching up on work.
Tuesday 11/6: After a fantastic breakfast, we made our way into the city centre to meet our contact Claudia from the tourism board. She gave us lot of useful information and tips about how we could spend our time while we were in the city; unfortunately we had to spend most of Tuesday back in the hostel working. We did head out for a walk around the nearby Belgian Quarter in the evening, but otherwise it was quite a quiet day.
Wednesday 12/6, Craig’s birthday: Stomachs full of delicious breakfast, we met our guide Marita near the cathedral and she took us on a comprehensive walking tour of the city. It was particularly interesting to see the thousands of love locks on the bridge and to hear about the underground concert hall; security guards were stopping pedestrians from walking through what looked like a pretty normal square but which was actually the roof of the concert hall — any noise above ruined the acoustics below.
Marita took us all the way down to the south gate of the city and we had a beer in the Früh bar there, which had been recommended by Claudia. We’d planned to visit a couple of galleries next, but Craig was feeling quite under the weather, so we headed back to the hostel for a nap.
In the late afternoon we visited Kolumba, the art museum of the Archdiocese of Cologne. Since it focuses on religious art, I thought it would be quite boring (I’ve seen a LOT of religious art) but it was fantastic — a great mix of old treasures and modern art.
It was time for a beer but we couldn’t find a place at the central-city bar Claudia had recommended, so we wandered towards the Belgian Quarter and chose one at random. We ended up eating dinner there too, since the food that other patrons were eating looked so fantastic.
Thursday 13/6: Neither of us was feeling fantastic, so we slept in and lingered over breakfast before making our way to the Chocolate Museum — which is, understandably, one of Cologne’s most-popular museums. Apart from continuously getting stuck behind a large group of pushy older ladies, we really enjoyed the museum — as well as telling the story of how chocolate is made, it also covered the history of chocolate use and production, with a section on advertising.
We had a lunch of Kölsch Kaviar (blood sausage) at the Fruh brewery in the city; the waiter roundly abused me for ordering apple juice instead of beer — I suppose I was asking for it!
It was starting to rain as we arrived at our next destination, 4711. This perfumery has been making eau de cologne since 1792; as well as selling their trademark fragrance 4711, they also run workshops so that you can make your own scent. We joined a public workshop but they also do private ones, which I think would be an awesome idea for a hen’s party.
The session was run in German as we were the only English speakers; instead of doing a full bilingual talk the instructor Monika explained everything to us while the others got started in mixing their perfumes. Craig and I both really enjoyed ourselves and created interesting colognes; Craig wasn’t super-happy with his but found that it had improved by the time we got back to the hostel — a win!
Friday 14/6: We had time for a quick coffee before meeting Elmar, the owner of Hostel Köln. It was interesting to hear about his philosophy and how the hostel got started; he also showed us some of the rooms. Strangely for a hostel, a large percentage of their guests are business people, while university and school groups are also well represented. Since they don’t have any dorms, backpackers aren’t such an important market, though flashpackers looking for a more-luxury hostel option are certainly looked after.
We’d hoped to meet a listener called Tristan at the station before we caught our train towards Dresden, so we had breakfast, packed up, and got to the city centre at around 11am. Unfortunately vandals had destroyed a signal box (or something) disrupting many trains in and out of Cologne, and Tristan couldn’t make it. Our train was also delayed, which meant we missed our connection at Frankfurt airport station and had to wait around for an hour before catching a slower train, which arrived in Leipzig five minutes late. This was okay since the connection to Dresden was going to depart 15 minutes late anyway. However, as we got off in Leipzig I saw another train that was just about to depart, so we jumped on that and actually made it to Dresden in time to meet our couchsurfing hosts Carola and Stefan at the time we’d arranged! Our planned three-hour stopover in Leipzig didn’t happen, and it had been a stressful journey, but we made it!
Stefan took us for a short drive around the city, showing us the main sights, then we went back to their place, where we settled in then had a delicious barbecue dinner. It was so great to sit outside in the sun — it finally feels like summer has arrived!
Saturday 15/6: After a sleep-in and a trip to the supermarket, Craig and I headed into the city to explore a little while Carola was at work. We had good luck with the buses, arriving at the stop two minutes before one was due and catching a connection with a minute to spare; unfortunately this wasn’t the case on the way home!
In the city, we wandered around the beautiful old town and checked out an outdoor shop we’d heard about, then made our way to the Big Garden — a large park that dominates any map of Dresden. There, we had a snack at the beer garden then walked through the park, admiring the central palace and man-made lakes.
Because of our lack of luck with the public transport, we didn’t make it home until 8.30, and we’d arranged to meet Carola and Stefan and 9pm to head back into Dresden Neustadt for the Bunte Republik Neustadt festival that was taking place there over the weekend. It was great — there were thousands of people packed into about four square kilometres of city streets, with bands playing every couple of hundred metres and hundreds of food and drink stalls — we tried quite a lot of both! Stefan led us to some of his favourite parts of the neighbourhood and stopped for a beer now and then as we fought our way through the crowd to back to the bus stop.
Sunday 16/6, Linda’s birthday: Since we’d stayed up quite late the night before, our hiking trip started a little later than planned — we headed out the door at 9am. (For me, that’s still quite early!) Carola and Stefan took us to the Nationalpark Sächsische Schweiz (Saxon Switzerland National Park), where we walked for about three hours through through the forest. The highlight was the stop at Bastei with its amazing rock formations — there were quite a lot of tourists there — for good reason, though.
On the way home we stopped at Stefan’s favourite cafe to pick up some cakes, which we ate in their garden accompanied by coffee — brilliant.
In the afternoon Craig played a computer game while I responded to birthday greetings and chatted with my friend César then went for a run. In the evening we had a South American themed dinner outside in the garden — a great birthday and a great birthday week!
Monday 17/6: We’d spent the weekend couchsurfing out in the suburbs, but since Carola and Stefan had to start work early on Monday morning, we’d said goodbye the night before. It took some time to get into the centre of Dresden and find our hotel, the Bülow Residenz, but we made it there before 11.30 to find that our room was ready for us — wonderful!
We quickly unpacked and changed, then made our way to the Sophienkellar restaurant on the Altstadt side of the River Elbe, where we met with Julia, our contact from the tourism board. We had a lovely lunch with her, and she gave us some useful tips about how we could spend our time in the city.
Unfortunately, Monday had to be a work day, so we headed back to the hotel and got down to it, with just a brief excursion out later in the day.
Tuesday 18/6: After a fantastic breakfast, we met with Jutta, one of the managers of the Bülow Residenz and its sister hotel, the Bülow Palais. She showed us around the two establishments and gave us teddy bears to accompany us on the rest of the journey — they’re cute!
We spent the morning working then had currywurst for lunch and hopped on a hop-on-hop-off bus trip to get our heads around Dresden’s geography. The tour was interesting but it was sweltering in the bus and the audio cut out occasionally, only to come back on AT TOP VOLUME. This was a little annoying.
Since we’d been couchsurfing on my birthday (last Sunday) we hadn’t had our traditional dinner out… so we postponed it to Tuesday (it’s still Birthday Week until the 18th, after all). We chose a restaurant on the Neustadt Markt which was packed with locals and tourists, and had a delicious meal: fish for me, flammkuchen for Craig. The evening finished with delicious ice-cream and a birthday chat with my mum.
Wednesday 19/6: It was already very hot by the time we left the hotel at 11 to walk into the city. We’d hoped to join a mini-tour of the Frauenkirche that was included with out hop-on hop-off tickets but couldn’t find the meeting point; we had a brief look inside for ourselves then walked over to the Zwinger. This impressive building, arranged around a large courtyard, houses the Old Masters art gallery, the Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon and the Porcelain Museum. We checked them all out — I liked the Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon best and the Porcelain Museum least by a long way. Porcelain is boring.
Lunch was a €7.77 beer-and-a-schnitzel deal, after which we checked out the art on offer at the Albertinum — Craig appreciated the sculpture, I enjoyed the work of Wilhelm Hammershoi, and we both liked the modern art cube on the lower floor — and the feather dusters.
We stopped back at the Bülow to collect our bags, then made our way to Hostel Lollis, where we would be spending the next two nights. Our room was on the third floor, but the sight we got when we opened the door was worth the climb — we got the Trabi room! In other words, there was a car in there. It had mattress in it but there’s only room for one person, so we decided to both sleep on the platform above.
On Wednesdays, guests of the hostel get dinner for free, so we ate our (tasty) soup quickly before running out the door to our evening appointment: a Night Walk tour with Danilo. He showed us around the Neustadt area, explaining a bit about its history and present, showing us the street art (yay) and leading us into several excellent bars. The evening wound up at around 12.30am and we collapsed, exhausted, into bed.
Thursday 20/6: It was another hot day, and we spent it seeing more of Dresden. First, we tried to find the Neustadt Museum that Danilo had told us about; we failed miserably and caught a tram to the Royal Palace instead. There, we visited the Turkish Chamber, the New Green Vault, and a photography exhibition, then climbed up the Hausmannsturm for a great view over the city.
Lunch was currywurst with peanut sauce at Curry and Co, after which we had a short rest back at the hostel before venturing out for more sightseeing: first the Museum of Saxon Folk Art and Puppet Theatre Collection, and then the (surprisingly small) Ethnology Museum in the Japanese Palace.
We’d hoped to eat our kebab dinner in a park near the hostel, but a windstorm developed just as we were about to sit down; we decamped and ate inside. It was a good thing too — a real storm arrived just half an hour later!
Friday 21/6: An early start was on the cards if we wanted to catch our train on time; we succeeded but were sad to see that the onboard bistro was closed so we couldn’t dose ourselves on coffee. Craig spent most of the five-hour trip to Bremen dozing; I got a bit of work done then read my book.
We were met in Bremen by Johanna (an ex-student of mine) and her dad, who took us for a delicious sushi lunch then showed us around the city. We’d been there before but not for about six years, it was great to see it again with a local guide. Johanna’s dad also showed us a hidden gem: a paternoster elevator. This is basically a chain of compartments without doors that constantly moves in a circle — you jump in as it moves past your floor and jump out at the floor you want. We had a go and it was awesome!
After saying goodbye to Johanna and her dad, we hopped on another train, to Hamburg, where we were met at the station by our couchsurfing host Holger. We spent the evening back at his place, getting to know him and his girlfriend Maja.
Saturday 22/6: It’s always nice to have a lazy day, and that’s what Saturday was. We slept in, went for a short walk to the park and supermarket, then had Vietnamese summer rolls for dinner. At about 9.30pm, we headed into the city to see the Kiez, the area of Hamburg where the famous Reeperbahn is located.
We had a beer and explored a little — although the weather wasn’t great there were a lot of people around because of the Harley Davidson event that was going on in the city. As well as hundreds of bars and clubs, this area is also home to brothels and strip clubs — it was definitely an interesting place to visit.
Sunday 23/6: Since Hamburg is full of lakes, rivers, and canals, it seemed logical to go on a boat trip at least once during our stay — and when Holger suggested a paddleboat ride, we jumped at the chance. We cycled to the hire place (using city bikes — a trip of less than 30 minutes is free!) and spent a pleasant three hours exploring some of Hamburg’s waterways.
Back at Holger and Maja’s, we had a late lunch then said our goodbyes; Craig and I were crossing the city again to stay in the Superbude Hostel St Pauli. We knew it was going to be good from the website, but it’s awesome — the decoration alone is amazing, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of it. For the first evening though, we just stayed in, relaxed, and watered the strawberry plant on the windowsill.
Monday 24/6: The week started with a work day: we recorded two podcasts and Craig got caught up with some things he needed to do. In the afternoon I went for a walk to the Reeperbahn, which seemed quite sad and dingy in the light, and we spent the evening in.
Tuesday 25/6: After a fantastic breakfast, we met Jörn, the manager of the hostel where we were staying, Superbude. He showed us around, told us about his philosophy, and pointed out some of the cool details of the hostel, like the bottle wall and the wheelbarrow chairs. We’d had a great stay but unfortunately it was time to leave, so we hopped on the S-Bahn and dropped our bags at our next hostel, the A&O City Süd. Since we left late and there was only one receptionist on duty, this took longer than we would have liked and we arrived a little late for our Eat the World food tour. Luckily there were only four of us on the tour, so it wasn’t a huge problem.
The tour was great; we visited seven shops and restaurants and tried all sorts of interesting foods while the guide, Peter, told us about the area. My favourite stop was an imbiss cafe, where we had homemade meatballs and fried potatoes, though the spice and cheese shops both get an honourable mention.
We spent the afternoon back at the hostel working, and braved the wind to find kebabs for dinner.
Wednesday 26/6: It seems like THE thing to do in Hamburg is to visit Miniatur Wunderland, so we made sure to include it in our itinerary. Plus, I knew that it would make my brother jealous!
Although models aren’t really my thing, the Miniatur Wunderland is something special. Stretching over two floors, the different areas are crafted in amazing detail, and there are hundreds of trains, boats, and other vehicles moving around. I liked how the lighting in the room changes from bright to dark, so you get a night as well as a day view of the scenes.
We spent about two hours in the Wunderland, then wandered around the city a little. In the evening we met our ex-Couchsurfing host Holger for dinner in a local restaurant, then went for a windy walk alongside the Alster lake.
Thursday 27/6: The weather wasn’t wonderful for our last day in Hamburg, but at least it wasn’t raining (much). Holger had recommended we walk alongside the Elbe as far as Blankenese, so we set off in the late morning with that in mind. As we passed through the central city, we stopped in at the Michaeliskirche, which is one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever seen — baroque, but not over the top. It probably helped that there was an organ practice going on while we were there, it really added to the atmosphere.
We took a lunch break at Strandperle a small restaurant on one of the river beaches, which serves truly delicious fischbrotchen — we went for the matje (herring) one and were not disappointed. By this time, though, it was starting to spot and we were still 6km from Blankenese; we decided to just go as far as Teufelsbruck and then make our way home by boat and S-Bahn.
Friday 28/6: With our German Rail passes from ACP Rail, we can make any detour we like on our travel days, and today we decided to visit Rostock on our way to Berlin. My friend Anna met us in the Neumarkt and showed us around a little before lunch, and afterwards we climbed the 200 or so steps of the Petrikirche tower for a great view of the city. We hadn’t seen Anna since we spent Christmas with her and her family in 2008, so it was great to have a bit of time with her. After a coffee and another wander through the town centre, it was time to head back to the station and on to Berlin.
We’re going to be spending the next three months in Berlin, and are renting our friend Frankie’s apartment while she and her boyfriend Mark are in South America. Frankie’s already there, but Mark wasn’t leaving until Saturday; we spent the evening on the balcony with him and two of his friends, drinking beer and eating pizza.
Saturday 29/6: Although it was his last morning in Berlin, Mark kindly took us for a walk around the area, pointing out the best shops and showing us where everything is. He headed off at around 3pm and we spent the rest of the day settling in and going grocery shopping.
Sunday 30/6: I would have liked to run some errands, but since everything is closed on Sundays it wasn’t possible — I should be used to it by now! Instead, we had lazy morning and reorganised the flat a little, then spent the afternoon working.
Monday 1/7: Craig spent the entire day inside, working, and I ventured into the centre of Moabit to do a bit of shopping and get a haircut. Apart from that, it was a quiet one.
Tuesday 2/7: Craig was also overdue for a haircut, so I bullied him into town for one. However, he got his reward: the secondhand shop next door boasted a wide range of board games and we picked up two of our favorites (Thurn and Taxis and Jaipur) in great condition and for a good price.
In the afternoon I met up with a Spanish girl called Christina for a language exchange; we sat on the balcony and sweltered. Later Craig and I played our first game of Jaipur and spent the evening relaxing on the couch.
Wednesday 3/7: After a solid morning of work, Craig and I detached Frankie and Mark’s bikes from their tangle of locks, and cycled to Wedding; Craig wanted to visit an electronics store to buy a keyboard. Unfortunately he didn’t find what he was looking for and had to buy it online.
We stopped at the library on the way home, and as we were leaving we got caught in a sudden heavy rain shower; it was hilarious! Back at the house, we played Thurn and Taxis and had dinner out on the balcony — yay for summer!
Thursday 4/7: Since we still had one more travel day left on our German Rail Passes from ACP Rail, we decided to add one more city to our Indie Germany trip: Leipzig. Sadly, we could only give it a day, but Steffi from the tourism office did her best to make sure we saw all the highlights.
We met her in her office in the late morning, after a 90-minute trip from our place to the centre of Leipzig, and she gave us all sorts of information and advice, then took us up to the Panorama viewing platform for a great view of the city.
Craig and I needed to eat before our tour, so we headed to the Auerbachs Keller, made famous in Goethe’s Faust. The two statues flanking the steps down to the cellar commemorate this connection, with Faust and the devil on one side, and a group of drunk students on the other.
The tour was excellent; half walking tour, half bus trip — we both really enjoyed it, though we were ready for a coffee by the time it finished. We had one in a small square, watching adults feed the pigeons and children chase them.
Our next stop was the Bach Museum, which was great — lots of interactive exhibits and an excellent audio guide. The audio guide at the Stasi museum (where we went after that) was also good, but the tracks were a little long and we’d arrived quite close to closing time. We decided that we just had time to visit the zoo before it, too, closed — in hindsight, we were wrong. However, we did enjoy our little boat trip in the Gondwanaland enclosure, even if we didn’t see many animals and had to be herded out of the enclosure by staff at closing time.
Luckily, we’d been told that we could wander the rest of the zoo at our leisure, so we followed the circular path and finally left about half an hour after it had closed. Seems like it really does warrant more time than we’d given it.
Steffi had recommended we visit KarLi (a street filled with bars and small shops) for its great atmosphere, so we caught two trams to get there and wandered along for a while, trying to choose a bar to have a beer in. In the end, though, we just had a sausage from a stall and headed back to the main station to catch our train — though not before trying the famous Leipziger Lerche, a tasty marzipan-filled tart that looks a bit like a birds’ nest.
Friday 5/7: After our busy day the day before, I could have done with a rest, but no… I went out in the morning and did a fair bit of shopping, then spent the afternoon cleaning the house in preparation for the small party we were having. We know a fair few people in Berlin, and several of them had been able to come over at short notice: our friend Claudia (who we met while hiking in Scotland); Norm (an ex-workmate); Jessica and Dani from GlobetrotterGirls; and Adam introduced us to his boyfriend Alex. We had a really lovely evening out on the balcony, getting to know some people and catching up with others.
Saturday 6/7: I often find it surprising how busy we are during the week, and sometimes a day off is very welcome. We both slept in, and spent most of the day lazing around — though Craig did bring me breakfast in bed and do a bit of work in the morning. In the evening, it was still so hot that I thought a nice chilled soup would be the perfect dinner — and I found a great salmorejo recipe on Lauren’s site. It was delicious!
Sunday 7/7: Neither of us felt inspired to do much for most of the day — the warm weather has a slightly soporific effect and we were quite comfortable reading our books and playing computer games. Craig experimented with cooking bulgur wheat to go with our lunchtime stirfry — we’re certainly on to a winner with that one!
July 8-21: Sometimes just doing nothing much can be exactly what you’re after, and that’s what we’ve been doing for the last couple of weeks: catching up on writing, playing board games, and hanging out on the balcony.
Probably the most exciting thing we’ve done was register as residents; I’d made an appointment three weeks previously and this was the earliest slot available. Luckily the office was only a ten-minute walk from our place, we didn’t have to wait long in the extremely uncomfortable waiting room (no seats, strange), and everything went smoothly. Of course, one of the first things I did with my new residency was join the local library — I have to work on my library card collection! Plus they had a selection of board games to borrow, but we didn’t really enjoy the one I chose (the Name of the Rose, based on the book by Umberto Eco).
On the 13th we hopped on our bikes and cycled across town to our friend Norm’s place for a barbecue; Craig contributed his barbecuing expertise and spent most of his time outside stoking the coal and cooking the meat. I stayed inside and chatted with Norm’s friends — I even managed a few minutes in German!
The following Tuesday we decided to spend the afternoon outdoors, so we biked to the Tiergarten and found a sunny spot to lie in for a couple of hours. I’d made hummus to take along (I love having a blender!), which was a nice addition to the outing. In fact, I’ve spent a fair amount of time cooking recently: Craig’s particularly pleased with the healthy cookies I’ve made a couple of times.
Craig had read about a Honey Festival that was taking place on Saturday, so we headed out in the early afternoon and managed to get lost several times on the way. The festival was small but interesting; we had a glass of mead and tried out some microgreens in yogurt. Then, on Sunday, we spent the afternoon in the Tiergarten again.
So, we haven’t really been up to much, but it’s been good to relax and live a relatively normal life for a change!
We live pretty close to Tegel Airport, but Christina’s flight arrived at Schönefeld, right on the other side of the city. I hopped on the S-Bahn to collect her and we spent the rest of Monday relaxing.
On Tuesday we headed into the city after lunch and Craig and I showed Christina the main sights: the war memorials, the Brandenburger Tor, the Reichstag, the Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, and an ice-cream stand (it was a hot day). The next day Craig had to work but Christina and I visited the East Side Gallery and did a bit of shopping, and on Thursday we went to an atonal music concert at Kraftwerk in Kreutzberg. Craig had won tickets through Slow Travel Berlin, and although it wasn’t the kind of music we’d listen to every day, we all really enjoyed it — and the venue was perfect, great acoustics. Unfortunately just before we went in I discovered that I’d broken a tooth — not fun at all!
Craig managed to find a dentist for me that was open on Friday afternoons (which is surprisingly uncommon here) and my appointment went remarkably well. I needed three fillings, and although the first dentist didn’t have time to do them all, he negotiated with his colleague and she finished up for him. It was great, and not too expensive — sadly, since I wasn’t in extreme pain and fillings count as routine dental work, I can’t claim for it on insurance.
In the evening our friends Holger and Claudia came over for a few drinks and told us about their hiking trip in Lapland (it was a bit of an adventure, Claudia hurt her ankle and had to be helicoptered out).
On Saturday we joined a fantastic Eat the World tour of Kreutzberg, where we tried all sorts of tasty snacks while learning about the area. The icecream was particularly welcome, but I also enjoyed the borek and the döner kebab. On Sunday, Craig and Christina went to the Mauerpark flea market and then to the airport, and I caught a bus north to Rostock.
29 July–4 August:
My week up north was pretty uneventful, I explored the city and Warnemunde and spent time with Anna and her mum. Meanwhile, Craig worked unbelievable hours and barely left the house — good thing I’d stocked up on groceries for him! He caught the bus up on Friday afternoon and Anna and I met him at the bus station; we all hopped in Anna’s car and headed even further northwards.
Our weekend in Wustrow was fantastic, Anna and her family are so nice! It was good to be able to communicate a little more than we could when we spent Christmas with them back in 2007 — our German (while shocking) is much better than it was then, and Inga and Uwe’s English has improved a lot. And Anna’s brother Paul has just got back from a year in Canada, so his English was amazing!
On Saturday we all drove to Prerow and had a look at an outdoor comics gallery, then went to the beach for a swim and a picnic. On Sunday Anna, Craig and I played minigolf and watched people waterski on an artificial lake. We spent the evenings playing card games and chatting, and it was generally pleasant and relaxing — the perfect summer weekend away.
We’d spent the weekend in Wustrow with our friend Anna and her family, and her dad (who’s a doctor) had offered to remove some of my moles. So we spent part of Monday morning in a doctor’s surgery, and I now have three holes in my back — very attractive! Afterwards, we had breakfast with Anna and her brother Paul, then caught the bus back to Berlin.
The rest of the week was pretty ordinary, we spent the days working and the evenings relaxing. On Friday an ex-student of mine, Vazz, came over for a few drinks; it was great to catch up. He still has photos on his phone from the camps we were at together nine years ago — I looked so young!
On Sunday we joined Holger for one leg of the enormous hike he does every weekend, the 66 Lakes path. This route circles Berlin and is made up of 17 sections, each 22-28km long — the perfect length for a day walk. Plus the start points are all accessible by public transport, so it’s a great weekend activity. Along our way we saw a small festival involving an outdoor church service as well as five of the 66 lakes. It was a great day!
That night we rented Cloud Atlas from iTunes, which I really enjoyed. I missed quite a lot of the connections, though, so we watched it again on Monday night and it all made a lot more sense.
On Tuesday Craig went to a Tenacious D concert with Vazz, which he really enjoyed, and our fellow blogger Peter Parkorr came to stay for the night. He headed off again on Wednesday, and I went to the airport to collect our next set of guests, Ana and Diego. We Couchsurfed with them in Jerez and have become good friends — it was great to see them again! By the time we got back from the airport it was after midnight, but we had to catch up a little… It was a late night.
Ana and Diego spent Thursday and Friday exploring Berlin while Craig and I worked. We also managed to find a well-priced flight from Europe to Kuala Lumpur, so we bought tickets after some wrangling with the bank. The flight goes from Rome, so it looks like we’ll be spending some time in Italy!
On Saturday we decided to visit Potsdam, and spent a lovely late morning walking around the Neuer Garten before having a beer in a beer garden then a Vietnamese lunch in the centre of town. However, our plans to explore Sanssouci Park were scuttled by the fact that it was closed for an event, and the security people wanted to charge us €48 for entry! We decided against it and caught the train back down the next day after spending the morning at the Mauerpark markets. But once again the world was against us, as it started to rain just as we got off the bus — and walking around a large park in the rain isn’t really our idea of a good time.
What a week! It started with a trip to the immigration office, for an appointment I’d made three weeks before. Unfortunately it turned out my appointment was with the wrong department, so we were sent upstairs and told to take a number. I thought we’d be waiting for hours, but within five minutes I was explaining my case to a friendly older woman, who seemed surprised that I wanted to stay such a short time in Germany — I only needed a six-week extension to the three months I’m allowed to spend here as a New Zealander.
She took all my carefully prepared and copied information and told us to wait in the waiting room again, and soon we were called in to talk to a very nice man who I didn’t understand at all, but who decided that it wasn’t worth going through the full residency process and instead wrote a short letter granting me permission to stay until the date of our flight to Ireland at the end of next month. Victory!
In the evening we left Ana and Diego at home and headed out to meet some other bloggers who are in town, including Peter, Steve, Sebastian, and Conni. We had to be home early so Craig could manage a promotion that was running on Seriously Board, but we saw most of them again on the Thursday when we met up at Street Food Thursday at Martkthalle Neun in Kreutzberg. In the meantime, on Tuesday evening Craig and I met Ana and Diego’s friend Selma, who introduced us to a great sushi restaurant and took us to a fantastic bar/ballroom (Clärchens), where we drank wine and watched other patrons tango. And on Wednesday we met Alexis (who has written some reviews for Indie Travel Reviews) and her boyfriend David. We decided to eat at the Dicker Engel, a restaurant near our place that Holger had highly recommended, and it was well worth it — fair prices, good service and delicious food.
Ana and Diego left on Thursday and on Friday we had a small party at our place — Holger and Claudia were there, as well as Steve and Michael. It was still warm enough to sit outside but autumn is definitely approaching.
On Saturday Craig and I slept in then made a pilgrimage across town to Ikea; we’d completely destroyed a chopping board and needed to replace it. And then on Sunday, I headed to Austria and left Craig behind. I hadn’t flown by myself for quite some time, and I found that I really enjoyed the experience of solo travel; both on the plane, and on the three trains I caught to get to my final destination of Mattersburg.
26 August — 1 September
During my six days in Mattersburg, I spent the mornings working and the afternoons exploring. My contact Gina was amazing, she organized wonderful excursions to various places, including a tour and wine tasting of the winery her husband runs. I visited a reconstruction of the Iron Curtain and spent an afternoon wandering around Eisenstadt — I even visited Haydn’s house (because I haven’t been to enough composers houses this year!). The food was amazing: Wiener schnitzel, Hungarian goulash, a delicious meat-and-cheese plate at a heuriger — I felt completely spoiled!
Craig met me at the airport on Saturday when I flew back to Berlin and took me down to Turmstrasse for a surprise: a street party. While I’d like to think the authorities put it on just for me, I think that’s quite unlikely; we had a great time regardless. We didn’t go on any of the dozen or so fairground rides, but we did stop to listen to the bands that were playing, and (of course) ate copious amounts of street food. Mushrooms, shish kebabs, quark balls, mango lassi… It was all delicious.
We spent Sunday afternoon with Craig’s ex-student Momo, who’s from Berlin but is living in Zurich. We went for a wander around the street party after having kebabs for lunch, then stopped into an Asian supermarket I’d never noticed before, and where we bought some Asian beers to drink back at home.
In the evening, Craig and I watched the Shipping News, which Frankie had on DVD. Unfortunately the disk was corrupted and the movie was unwatchable after about an hour; we were enjoying it though, so we rented it from iTunes so we could see the end.
One of my goals for our time in Berlin was to learn German, but I hadn’t been getting on very well with motivating myself to study… so I decided to join a German school for a couple of weeks. Die Deutschule was well priced, had good reviews, and offered a free trial lesson, so I headed over there on Monday morning psyched up and ready to go. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any free spaces in the morning classes at my level, so I didn’t end up signing up, but I certainly enjoyed the two free classes I sat in on — one a level too high, the other a little too low.
Instead, I decided to spend the mornings at the library with a variety of books and magazines, which, while not being the most interactive way to study, has at least given me a grounding in grammar. I feel like I have a much better grasp of German now, though there’s still a lot further to go.
It was a fortnight of language learning, actually, as I had two Spanish classes with Learned By Me, which I really enjoyed. It’s a pity they don’t have a German section yet!
Craig spent the week working, then headed down to Nuremberg to give a presentation about working with bloggers. The day started off badly, with his flight being delayed by several hours, but the presentation went well when he finally arrived. He spent the evening wandering through the market that was set up in the old town, and the next day he met up with a fellow blogger, Laurel, who lives in Munich. They visited the castle and Albrecht Durer’s house before holing up in a great cafe for a long chat.
Craig’s flight back on Saturday morning was without complications, and he and I spent the afternoon enjoying the warm weather in the Tiergarten. On Sunday we watched the America’s Cup final, a sailing race that’s currently being held in San Francisco. New Zealand regards itself as the rightful owner of the cup, and we’ve been trying to get it back since we lost it in 2003. This year, the first team to win nine races will win the cup, and as only two races are held per day (and only every two days), it could be quite a long regatta! We’d missed the first two races, but on Sunday we saw Team New Zealand win one race and Oracle Team USA win the other.
I managed to keep going with my German study in the morning, though I chose to do it at home rather than at the library on a couple of the days because the weather was so terrible! It definitely feels like winter has arrived. We also finally got around to buying tickets for the last leg of our journey home (Melbourne-Christchurch), and on Wednesday we took a trip to the doctor because I was worried about something. It turned out to be a false alarm, though, which was a great relief… I’d obviously been stressed about it because I’d been losing all the games of Thurn and Taxis Craig and I had played. On our return home, we played again and I thrashed him. Stress over.
On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday we watched more of the America’s Cup, and were pleased to see New Zealand win the first three races. Only three more to go and we’ll have the cup back! On Friday we went to a film festival that our friend Claudia had helped organise. It was awesome, so many great films! I particularly enjoyed a French stop-motion animation called La Coquille (The Shell) and a couple that dealt with social media and how we interact with it. But actually, they were all good, even the ones in German that we didn’t quite understand because they didn’t have subtitles in English. The festival ran a little over time and we didn’t get home until about 1.30am — a late night for us!
On Saturday we slept late then headed down to our local Markthalle to finally try the beers at the microbrewery there. Luckily they had a tasting “karousel” so we could try all four of the beers on offer, and we were both super impressed with the IPA and the pilsner.
We spent the evening watching the sailing, which was more than a little stressful (New Zealand almost capsized) and on Sunday I took off for a week in Austria.
I can’t believe we only have two more weeks before we leave!
Our second-to-last week in Berlin was uneventful; in fact, I wasn’t even in the country. While I spent the week in small-town Austria, Craig spent his days holed up inside, working frantically. He met me at the airport on Saturday afternoon and we did nothing much at all for the rest of the day. We also took Sunday off — we’d thought about going out and doing something touristy, but staying at home seemed so much more appealing.
The final week went by in a flurry of appointments and errands. We had to defrost the freezer and return library books, visit the Apple store for a damage report for my iPod, pack up things to post home… It was a busy time. On Wednesday we had Holger, Claudia and Norm over for a few drinks and on Thursday we went for a massive cycling trip around the city to see the sights for the last time. We also met up with Adam for a coffee and had schnitzel for dinner at the Dicker Engel with Holger and Claudia.
On Friday we got up early to do a final clean of the house and do those last-minute things that always need to be done before leaving somewhere you’ve been for a while: we posted a couple of boxes back to New Zealand, visited the supermarket for supplies, and took several loads of rubbish down to the bins. We were finally ready to leave at more or less the time we needed to go, and got to the airport without any major hassles. There, though, we got funnelled through a security check right away, and soon found ourselves in a small waiting room on the other side of passport control, where there were no toilets and not enough seats for everyone: not a win. However, the flight went well and arrived in Ireland ahead of schedule.
We were Couchsurfing in Dublin with an awesome Estonian woman called Irena with a strong Irish accent who welcomed us with a huge hug. We spent the evening chatting with her and, later, her cousin Kaidar, and had delicious Thai food for dinner.
Irena had to work the next day, so we walked into town and spent a few hours exploring the city and trying to find the right train station to buy our tickets for the next day. Back at home, we chatted with Kaidar’s partner Ross then had Thai for dinner again (it helps that Kaidar’s the manager of the local Thai restaurant).
On Sunday we had lunch with Ross and Kaidar in a local cafe before making our way to Heuston Station to catch our train. We didn’t have allocated seats, so we arrived early in the hope of being among the first to board — we’d been warned that the train would be full of hurling supporters heading home after Saturday’s big game. However, we had to wait in line for quarter of an hour, then were part of the throng as hundreds of people got on all at the same time.
Luckily, we ended up at a four-person table along with a nice Irish woman and an older Irish man, and we spent the entire 90-minute journey chatting with them about hurling, Ireland, and travel in general — it felt like a real immersion experience.
We were on our way to BlogHouse, where Craig was on staff as the tech expert at a three-day retreat for travel bloggers. We met several of them in the van to the castle where we were staying, and spent the afternoon getting to know each other a little. It was great to finally meet Pete and Dalene, who’d organised the event, and although we saw Michael Hodson in Berlin just a couple of weeks ago, it was good to catch up with him too.
Monday 30/9: Craig had been asked to be the resident tech geek at BlogHouse, a learning retreat for travel bloggers, and Monday was his big day. He spoke at the sessions about WordPress, SEO, and the basics of travel blogging, and was in hot demand for one-on-one talks. I wasn’t on staff, but I really enjoyed the sessions that I attended, as well as getting to know the attendees (Murissa, Andrew, Helen, Lance, Jaclynn, Brendon, Jo, Megan, Julika, and Béatrice). I spent quite a lot of time chatting with Andrew about his volunteering experiences, and with Helen about her trips to Africa, and really enjoyed hanging out in a castle!
Tuesday 1/10: The sessions continued but Craig had the morning off, so we slept in and staggered downstairs later than everyone else to attend a discussion on monetization. I attended Pete and Michael’s photography class but otherwise spent the afternoon trying to plan our upcoming Balkans trip — I’ve really left it to the last minute!
After dinner most of us walked down to the village pub for a few pints with Isabelle and Leah, representatives of two of BlogHouse’s sponsors, HostelBookers and HostelWorld. (The other two were FlipKey and Trivago.) Craig, whose cold was a lot worse than mine, stayed behind and made the most of our awesome bathroom by having a long hot bath.
Wednesday 2/10: Although BlogHouse was definitely held at the beginning of the week, its three-day format made it feel like a weekend. The last session of this virtual weekend was the most interactive, as the participants had to give their elevator pitch to a panel that included industry representatives (reps they’d had a drink with the night before, but still). This was followed by a quick rush to pack up and leave Bansha; most of us were travelling to Dublin on the same train. Craig and I sat with Michael and Ayngelina — we’ve seen a lot of Michael recently but we’ve never really spent time with Ayngelina, so it was nice to get to know her a little.
In Dublin, we were being put up by Barnacles Hostel, which has an enviable location in the centre of the Temple Bar nightlife district. We just had time to look through the goody bags our contact Lidija had left us, and do half an hour’s work, before it was time to head out to the BlogHouse industry function. This was immediately followed by the TBEX Dublin Opening Night Party at the Guinness Storehouse, sponsored by Failte Ireland.
They’d gone all-out on entertainment, with stilt walkers to welcome us, bands around every corner, and Irish dancers galore, but I was there to see my friends. Finding them took a bit of time as we had to stop halfway up the stairs for a Charlie-and-the-Chocolate-Factory-like Guinness tasting experience (there were smoking columns, need I say more?). Eventually, though, we found Corey from Irish Fireside and I spent most of the evening with him, Heather, and a couple of other bloggers. This isn’t to say that I didn’t meet anyone new — I particularly enjoyed my conversation with Ian and his slightly drunk friend.
Thursday 3/10: For us, TBEX is about connecting with other bloggers, and Tuesday was great for that… especially the time we spent with Corey and Chris Christensen. We somehow managed to spend about two hours just talking at the DoubleTree, where TBEX was being held, and then walked over to the Odeon together for the Expedia party.
Friday 4/10: It wouldn’t be a conference if you didn’t skip out on at least one session, so we slept in then walked over to the Old Jameson Distillery for a tour and whiskey tasting; there’s nothing like whiskey for breakfast. Craig met Michael to get some work done and I was given a tour of our hostel before trying to do just a tiny bit more Balkan-trip planning.
I think I attended just one TBEX session on Friday apart from Dan and Audrey‘s excellent closing key-note speech, but I certainly got some people time: with Leyla, Dan and Linda, and a few interesting industry reps. This continued at the post-TBEX drinks and at two unofficial after parties… and so ended our second weekend of the week.
Saturday 5/10: We’d been sensible the night before and not stayed out too late, which paid off the next morning when we had to get up at 6am for a 9am flight to Zadar, Croatia. Luckily everything went well and our plane touched down after three hours in the air to the sound of Ryanair’s self-congratulatory “on-time” jingle. The luck continued as we walked out the door of the airport and right on to the bus into the city; I was impressed that the public transport company had hired an English-speaking host to deal with the hordes of tourists arriving on our flight.
Recent rain had left Zadar’s polished streets quite slippery, so we almost literally slid our way to our accommodation. After checking into our (frankly quite amazing) hostel, the Boutique Hostel Forum, we had burek for lunch and went for a quick stroll around the old town. The highlight was seeing workers transfer trays of fish from a boat on to a waiting truck; the fluid motions they used, how they all worked in unison to ensure speed: it was quite beautiful. The wedding party we later saw marching down our street, serenaded by relatives and followed by dozens of guests? That was also impressive, I suppose.
Sunday 6/10: Rain kept us inside in the morning but also meant that we met Annie and Colin, who are busking to fund their travels. I convinced them to do an interview for an upcoming podcast, and they even played for me — on the harp and mandolin! We saw them later on as they busked on the waterfront near the sea organ; we were making the most of a break in the rain to see a little more of the city. We also visited the Archaeological Museum, which I quite liked despite the fact that one of its three floors has been closed for a year and shows no sign of reopening; the audio guide was great and the collection of prehistorical objects on the top floor was thoughtfully displayed.
The skies opened again after lunch so we holed up in our cabin-like bunks to work. We were interrupted at one point by a member of the housekeeping staff, who was bringing us back the laundry we’d left to be cleaned. Since we’d handed in one bag and she’d brought back three, we were pretty sure this couldn’t be our washing, and this was confirmed by the fact that one of the bags held two large, brightly coloured towels. When I pointed this out to the maid, she said “no, no, they are a gift from the hostel, they are from Croatia.” I think they saw our piddly little travel towels and took pity on us!
The real weekend ended with a damp dinner out.
Monday 7/10: Low clouds and short rainshowers obscured the rounded hills on either side of the road as we travelled by bus from Zadar to Split; a break in the weather now and then revealed tiny red-roofed villages perched on ridged or nestled into coves. Most of the vegetation was a scrubby green that looked like it could use the rain, so we didn’t begrudge it until we got soaking wet on the way to our hostel in Zadar. We’d had a coffee at the bus station, waiting for a heavy shower to ease up, and set off into a drizzle which got steadily heavier. But when we stopped a taxi to travel the rest of the way in the dry, the driver said it was close and pointed us in the wrong direction.
At least the hostel, Backpackers Fairytale, was nice. We were met by the owner’s dad, who showed us around the hostel and gave us some information about Split, and told us we’d be the only guests that night.
In the late afternoon, the rain stopped and the sun emerged, and we decided we’d better make the most of this opportunity to see the city. So we rubbed Gregory of Nin‘s toe, admired the mix of ancient ruin and modern construction in the palace, and walked along the waterfront and up Marjan hill for a great view over the city.
Tuesday 8/10: The morning’s rain eased off in the afternoon, so we headed back down into the city, where for €6 we got access to the cathedral, its treasury, bell tower, and crypt, as well a baptistry in the tiny Temple of Jupiter. The cathedral, crypt and baptistry weren’t super exciting, but the treasury housed some amazing old books and the bell tower gave a spectacular view over the city. Getting to the top was a bit scary, though — the iron stairs circle up the inside walls of the otherwise empty tower, and though it was probably perfectly safe I was happy to reach the top and not feel so much vertigo.
Wednesday 9/10: Since we’d missed seeing the fish market in operation during the previous two days, we braved the rain to check it out. There weren’t too many stalls open, but it was worth seeing nonetheless.
Our bus to Dubrovnik was both cheaper (115kn) and longer than we’d expected — we arrived a full hour after the scheduled time. The trip along the coast was pretty spectacular: lots of dark green islands and rough sea.
Our host, Ivan, picked us up from the bus station and took us back to his place (Villa Ivan), where he gave us just what we needed after a long journey: coffee. By this time it was too late to explore the city, so we visited a nearby supermarket for supplies and had cevapi for dinner at a local pizzeria.
Thursday 10/10: We hadn’t originally planned to visit Dubrovnik, but so many people had recommended it that we substituted out Sarajevo for three days in Croatia’s southernmost city. After a day of exploring the ancient streets of its old town and wandering through some of its newer areas, though, we’re not convinced. Dubrovnik is by far the most expensive city in the country, and the old town has an empty yet crowded feeling to it — tourists throng the streets, but locals can’t afford to live there (according to Ivan), which means that it just doesn’t have much of a vibe.
Friday 11/10: We’d cut Bosnia and Herzegovina out of our itinerary, but we didn’t want to miss it all together. So we joined a day tour that would take us to most of the main sights in the south of the country: the Roman villa at Mogorjelo, the pilgrimage town of Medugorje, gorgeous Mostar, and the fortress at Pocitelj. We particularly enjoyed sitting in the sun by Mostar’s river, eating figs and waiting for someone to jump off the city’s iconic bridge; and getting sticky fingers from eating pomegranate straight from the tree after climbing to the top of Pocitelj tower.
Saturday 12/10: Bus travel has never been our favourite, and Saturday’s journey was a great example of why. We’d investigated bus times and prices, but our tickets cost more than expected and we had to change our last euros to kuna at a bad rate. Then, when we went to board the bus with our bags, we were yelled at by a bad-tempered woman who said that we not only had to put them under the bus, we had to pay for the privilege (“you must pay!”). This was odd, since the other two times we’d travelled with the same company, we’d been allowed to keep them with us. So, frustrated and considerably broker, we finally got on the bus towards Kotor… and waited until 20 minutes past departure time to actually leave.
Long waits at the border didn’t help, and neither did getting caught in a sudden shower on the way to our hostel, Montenegro Hostel Kotor. But Kotor was worth all the effort. We’re staying in the old town, which is tucked between a steep cliff face and a lake, and fortress walls snake up to a ruin well above the city. After settling into our apartment near the hostel’s main building, we had a chat with the owner Gordana then set off to explore the city in the dusk.
Sunday 13/10: The low clouds of the morning had completely cleared by the time we’d bought and packed a picnic and set off up the fortress steps. A cruise ship was in port, so we were accompanied by quite a few other people, but we’d been given some advice they didn’t know about: near the top, we ducked through a window in the wall, and followed a dirt track to the ruin of an old church. From there, we climbed up again until we reached a small house, where we were welcomed by a young girl and her mother, who sold us cheese and fed us pomegranates.
When we finally reached the top of the hill, we pulled out our picnic of brown bread, cheese, tomatoes, and red wine; other visitors lamented their lack of planning. We took our time eating then slowly descended, and went for a long walk after a slow afternoon of work and reading.
One of the services Hostel Montenegro Kotor offers is a traditional dinner for just €5. The chef was away the day before but came back in time to prepare us the most amazing meal we’ve had in some time: a cucumber and tomato salad, tzatziki, rice with vegetables, and a generous portion of meat. Yum.
Monday 14/10: Sad to leave Kotor but excited about exploring more of Montenegro, we made our way through the drizzle and arrived at the bus station just as a bus was pulling out. Luckily a quick-thinking attendant asked us where we were going and motioned to the driver to stop, so we were on our way sooner than we’d have imagined.
Budva, like Dubrovnik, is a medieval walled city, and we enjoyed walking around the top of the walls and checking out the sea views on one side and the mountains on the other. We poked our heads into several beautifully decorated churches then followed a green fenced walkway around the rocks to a white sand beach that had a few people sunbathing on it — the cool breeze of the morning had melted into a warm early afternoon.
A thirty-seater bus took us onwards to Montenegro’s capital, Podgorica. The journey was full of switchbacks as we climbed the mountains behind Budva; on one side was the blue sea, on the other hills formed of stacks of grey rocks adorned with dark green bushes, their leaves just starting to fade to yellows, oranges and reds.
Tuesday 15/10: Our hostel, Montenegro Hostel Podgorica, is located in a quiet area of town, so we woke up refreshed and ready to hit the town. Podgorica is a small city and doesn’t have a lot of stand-out attractions, but it’s got a good vibe; we spent a good four hours walking around exploring. The green market with its wide aisles and clean floors was a favourite; we didn’t buy any fruit or vegetables on the ground floor but we made some clothes purchases on the mezzanine — Craig finally has more than two pairs of socks! In fact he now has an oversupply, as he was given two pairs for free just after buying some at another stall.
Wednesday 16/10: When I was researching transport connections for this trip, I found a link between Podgorica and our next stop, Shkodra. However, it no longer exists; the only way to get there was to first catch a bus to Ulcinj and then hop on another to Shkodra. Since the last bus from Ulcinj leaves at 12.30, we had to make sure we were there in plenty of time. We were. In fact we had a whole hour in an almost deserted bus station — it was an important Muslim holiday and the restaurants and cafés were all closed.
The onward trip was straightforward and not as scenic as the morning’s journey had been, with its lake and coastal views, but we enjoyed chatting with another couple of travellers, who were travelling from Kotor to Tirana — a journey that involved three bus changes.
We arrived at our next hostel, Mi Casa Es Tu Casa, just as an impressive rainstorm made its own appearance. Staying inside seemed like quite a good option, especially when the staff whipped up a late pasta lunch for everyone. We had a great afternoon chatting with some of the other guests as well as with the owners Ana and Giogio and the manager Juli.
Later a group of us went in search of an elusive restaurant called Ana; the next day we found out it wasn’t called Ana at all. We ate somewhere else.
Thursday 17/10: While Craig stayed behind to work, I headed out with a young québécois called Vincent to explore the city. Almost by accident we stumbled upon the barely used train station with its collection of decaying carriages, and couldn’t resist having a quick look inside one of them. A grey-haired guard in a patched-up purple uniform lay his bike on the platform and came over to ask us what we were doing; our efforts to communicate weren’t the most successful. However, when I said we were just taking photos, he seemed happy enough and we parted with a cheery “ciao”.
On our return, I managed to convince Craig to leave his computer for a few hours and we started towards the castle. Along the way we saw two horses standing unconcernedly in the middle of the main road as cars navigated around them; someone doing a driving lesson with three kids in the back seat; and a father shouting instructions at his ten-year-old son, who was trying to parallel park a car on a hill.
The castle attendant gave us sweets instead of tickets when we paid the entrance fee, and we spent a pleasant hour or so exploring the ruins and taking photos of the spectacular views of the town, the lake, and the flat plains.
Back in town, we found out that the real name of Restaurant Ana is Lille France, so we went there for dinner at our host’s suggestion.
“Can we see a menu?” we asked.
“No menu,” was the response.
We decided to take the risk and to eat whatever they served us, and it was delicious. For €3 per person, we devoured a plate of bean soup followed by a traditional Albanian dish of eggplant, red and green peppers, and rice. Plus we were treated to free entertainment courtesy of the owner’s grandson, who danced around showing off his flashing shoes.
Our last stop of the night was at a fancy looking pastry shop, where we paid almost nothing for a delicious creme caramel and pastry, and chatted to a couple of local guys about their travel experiences and how much they love Albania.
Friday 18/10: Despite an accident on the main road that left traffic backed up in long queues, our furgon trip to Tirana took exactly the time we’d been told it would: two hours. Unfortunately the walk from the drop-off point to our hostel was quite long, but had the benefit of passing through the centre of town — so we got to see a lot of the city as soon as we arrived.
Saturday 19/10: Our morning’s explorations took us to the gypsy market and through many of Tirana’s narrow streets and alleys, before leaving us at a booking agency where we found our onwards plan just wasn’t going to work. We wanted to visit Ohrid, across the border in Albania, but the only bus there leaves Tirana at 7.30pm, arriving at a nearby town five hours later — and from there we’d still have to catch a taxi. Since getting to Pristina from Tirana is relatively straightforward, and we have reservations for a hostel there in three days, we decided to scrap Ohrid and explore a bit more of Albania instead.
As we were working all this out while sitting on a sunny park bench in Tirana’s central square, Sergi, Sutton and Marc came along. We’d met them in Shkodra and got on well with them, so we decided to join them for a while — we had a fast-food lunch then headed to a second-hand/outlet store that Sutton had been told about.
We were running out of time to see the city by then, so we said goodbye and visited a couple of other key points of interest, such as the decrepit pyramid which was supposed to be a museum/mausoleum of Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha, and “the block”, the nightlife district.
Sunday 20/10: Everyone at our hostel (Trip’n’Hostel) had been raving about a certain local restaurant that closes in the early afternoon, so we delayed our departure to have lunch there. One of the owners accompanied us to translate what was on offer and to order for us, and we ended up with a delicious array of dishes that filled us up and set us back a grand total of €3.50. Unfortunately, our attempts to get to Berat weren’t quite as successful.
We managed to catch the local bus in the direction of the furgon stop, but got off late and then couldn’t find a furgon (mini bus) going in the direction we wanted. A driver going to Vlore took us in hand and explained at length how he could take us to Lushnje, where he’d personally make sure we’d find a bus going on to Berat. We weren’t sure, thinking he was just looking for another couple of passengers, but he was true to his word and the transition to our second furgon was quite painless.
The journey, as always, was stunning: flat plains stretching out to low rolling hills that sometimes morphed into craggy grey mountains. Building skeletons lined the roads, mostly under construction rather than on their way out, but some caved-in roofs spoke of better times.
Berat Backpackers is on the opposite side of the river from the main part of town, and when we arrived we found Vincent was already there. We didn’t have much time to talk to him though, because we took the receptionist’s advice and hiked up the hill behind the hostel to check out the sunrise. The soft pinks and striking yellows gave the town and several mountains a new look, and we sat for ten minutes or so, taking photos and enjoying the scene.
We were careful to leave with plenty of time to get back before dark, but didn’t count on missing the turn-off. Hiking down slippery stone steps lit by the light of our iPhone lanterns was Craig’s idea of a great adventure; I was happy to get out of it without twisting an ankle.
Monday 21/10: The start of the week found us in the Albanian city of Berat. This hadn’t originally been part of our itinerary; we’d planned to go to Ohrid in Macedonia, but we changed our route after learning that transport connections between our last stop (Tirana) and Ohrid weren’t ideal. We certainly didn’t regret our decision to visit Ohrid: it’s beautiful, with a citadel perched on the hill above the city proper and mountains circling in the distance.
Monday’s always a work day for us, but we found time to climb up to the fortress and enjoy the views out over the town, and of course there’s always time for dinner!
Tuesday 22/10: Our timetable informed us that a bus left Berat for Tirana at 11:30; accordingly, we arrived at the parking lot that doubles as a bus station at 11:20. A young man advertising his bus’s destination as if he were selling fruit told us that he’d be leaving in 15 minutes, so we got on and waited. And waited. Perhaps he actually said 50 minutes, because that’s how long we sat for before the bus launched on its bumpy way. The windows were smeared with whitewash or something, so the views were blurry, but luckily there was drama enough in the bus itself.
An old man boarded and saw a friend in the seat in front of us; his face lit up with joy as he almost bounded down the aisle to greet the other man warmly. The chatted animatedly for an hour or so before the first man had to leave, with many a kiss on the cheek, hand clasp and backward glance as he stepped off the bus.
The trip took so much longer than we expected that we had to rush to buy our tickets for the next leg of the journey, and I was still chewing my lunchtime souvlaki when the bus pulled up. This vehicle was by far the best we’d travelled on so far, and almost empty. Through the (clean) windows I got a great view of the motorway ahead of us, winding through a pass between steep mountains with a steel-grey river alongside. Unfortunately it was dark by the time we left the border controls, and a pause at a truck stop for a kebab and a pee in the squatty toilet made us even later. Eventually, we arrived at the Skopje bus station, where an attendant kindly called a radio taxi for us (we’d been warned not to use the unmarked ones). This taxi driver didn’t know the street our guesthouse was on, and drove in circles while peering at the inadequate Google Maps route that I’d saved on my phone. Eventually we got out and walked along the street we needed, and found the guesthouse Arvisa without a problem.
Wednesday 23/10: Craig had several deadlines to meet, so he holed up in one of our favourite cafés and got a couple of hours’ work done while I explored a little. While admiring the clock tower, the market, and the many mosques, I noticed that while all of the teenage girls I saw were wearing a school-uniform skirt, each had paired it with whatever other items of clothing they fancied. Very few wore socks or stockings; most had jeans or other tight trousers underneath. Their shoes were infinite in their variety, as were their tops. Later, I noticed boys in grey trousers putting on blue shirts as they re-entered school grounds; perhaps their uniform was a little stricter?
Thursday 24/10: Pristina is a small city; after an hour or so of wandering we’d seen most of the notable sights. So we stopped into the Kosovo museum, hoping to learn a little about the history of the country. The downstairs poster gallery was interesting, but the display upstairs, devoted to the 1999 war, was not much help. It was a beautifully laid out, but completely incomprehensible memorial to the emersion of Kosovo as a nation. The only information in English was an entire wall of New York Times cover pages, which at least put the events in a historical context (Gwyneth Paltrow’s Oscar, the Columbine school shootings), but none of the graphic pictures or NATO-adulating displays were captioned. It at least made me curious to look up the history online when we got home.
Friday 25/10: A late start meant that we were among the last to board our bus to Skopje, and the only pair of seats left had a painted-in window. The border crossing was smooth, as was our taxi ride to our hostel (Urban Hostel), where we checked in, looked around, and then promptly went out for a late lunch. Both this and dinner later were spectacular feasts: delicious salads, grilled meats, refreshing beer or interesting wine.
Saturday 26/10: Skopje is currently being redeveloped as part of a project called Skopje 2014 (presumably because they want to finish by then), so there are quite a few half-built buildings around. However, a remarkable amount of work has already been done and the central city is packed full of brand-new statues and architecture. We were particularly impressed with the main square, a large, clean, white space with a large fountain topped by an enormous statue of Alexander the Great, the city’s most-famous son. Memorials to its most-famous daughter, Mother Teresa, are about 500m away, down one of the roads leading off the central square.
As well as admiring a hundred or so statues, we also visited the old bazaar and checked out the goods on offer at the main market before climbing up to one of the few genuinely old buildings in the city, the fortress. Unfortunately Craig was feeling a little unwell, so he headed home while I continued exploring.
Sunday 27/10: An extra hour’s sleep is always welcome, but while we enjoyed that aspect of the daylight savings time change, we weren’t so happy when the sun set at 4.30pm! Before being so rudely surprised by darkness, we caught a bus partway up the hill topped by Skopje’s iconic Millenium Cross, planning to hike the rest of the way. Our usual trick of following the locals didn’t pan out exactly as we’d hoped, as the path we took ended at a completely different summit. A quick back-track took us to another likely trail, which (after a lot of uphill trekking) emerged by the cross itself. Victory! The walk back down was a little less successful, as we took the steepest of the three options available, and slid a fair portion of the way.
We had time for another wander through the ranks of statues before making our way back to the hostel for a quick rest before a delicious meal at our local grill restaurant.
Monday 28/10: We started the week in Skopje, Macedonia, a charming city with more statues than it knows what to do with. Unfortunately we had a lot of work to get done, so we spent most of the day holed up in our hostel before making our way to the bus station for our trip to Thessaloniki. Since the clocks had just changed, the sun was already setting at our scheduled departure time of 5pm — not that we left then. A couple of passengers managed to hold us up for a full half hour.
The trip took around four hours including the border stop and a twenty-minute break at a rest area; we were exhausted by the time we finally arrived at our hostel, Rent Rooms, and collapsed gratefully into bed.
Tuesday 29/10: Our first food tour of the week was Tastes of Thessaloniki with Urban Adventures. The guide Thanasis told us that he wants his guests to feel like friends that he’s showing his favourite spots to. As we were the only participants on this particular tour, this concept worked really well — the only problem was that we ate far too much! So much, in fact, that we had to have a lie down before heading out again in the late afternoon to see the waterfront and visit the Byzantine Museum.
Wednesday 30/10: While Craig stayed behind to get a bit of work done, I went for a walk to see a little of Thessaloniki’s upper town. The view from the fortress was almost pure white due to the heavy fog that hung over the city, so I didn’t linger long — we had a plane to catch anyway!
Unfortunately, this plane was delayed by three hours. We spent the time eating complimentary pastries and chatting with a fellow New Zealander who was also heading to Rome, and finally arrived at the lovely Blues BB guesthouse at around 6pm. Our host Sabio recommended a lovely restaurant nearby, where the food was good and the prices fair. Unfortunately we’ve been spoiled by Balkan prices, so despite its reasonableness, it felt very expensive — going back to New Zealand is going to be a shock!
Thursday 31/10: I’d learned my lesson on Tuesday and didn’t eat breakfast before heading out the door for our Eating Italy food tour. We left in plenty of time for our 10.30 start, and wandered slowly through the centre of Rome, admiring the ruins that lay along our route. Unfortunately we couldn’t find our guide, despite arriving early, and hadn’t saved the meeting instructions on our phones to confirm what our memories were sure of. My phone wouldn’t connect to a network and Craig’s was out of credit, so we couldn’t call; the nearest payphone wouldn’t accept the coins we worked hard to change, and we couldn’t find an open wifi network. Eventually Craig managed to send a tweet and download the arrival instructions; these included directions to the second stop on the tour.
We made our way there and chatted with the owner of the restaurant. “Eating Italy tour?” we asked. “Yes, tonight,” he replied. Turns out our contact had sent us the meeting instructions for the wrong tour! The restaurant owner kindly called the office, and we were given directions across the river to a tour that had just started. In an Amazing Race-style adventure, we made our way to the first address, where there were no groups, then to the second, which was full of people — but not our people.
We asked a member of staff. “Around the corner,” he said. And there, around the corner, we found a pizzeria, 11 tourists, and a guide talking about the history of the pizza. Win.
Both the guide and our contact were extremely apologetic about our misadventure, but we’d loved it, just as we loved the tour. We’d missed the first stop (tiramisu), but there was still four hours of food and culture to experience. As well as pizza, we ate cheese, prosciutto, suppli and gelato; visited a market for bruschetta, buffalo mozzarella, and cannolo; and ate three types of pasta in a restaurant built into a hill of amphora shards.
The food was spectacular but I also enjoyed the cultural stops: we visited the graves of John Keats and Percy Shelley, saw the Pyramid, and learned about an old slaughterhouse.
Friday 1/11: Because we’re suckers for Italian food, we’d decided to have another food-themed day, this time with Walks of Italy. Not that we did much walking. We caught a train to Tuscany, where we were met at the station by our hostess Alina. She, her mum, and a couple of members of staff then took us on a cooking adventure: we prepared tiramisu, cooked pasta from scratch, whipped up some roast pork loin, and made risotto as well — and then we ate it all outside with a bottle of wine. Alina, who’s a professional sommelier, also gave us a couple of little talks about olive oil and wine, and drove us back to the station when it was time to go.
Saturday 2/11: Since check out was at 10am and we didn’t have to leave for the airport until 12.30, we left our bags at the guesthouse and went for a last walk around Rome. Our wanderings took us past the Colosseum and into the throngs of tourists around Palatine Hill; we didn’t have time to stand in line to enter the ruins but instead walked up the hill to peek into a church at its summit.
Back at Termini station after picking up our bags, we dined on pizza and McDonald’s salad before hopping on the bus to the airport. And then, disaster struck — traffic was at a standstill. We were already cutting it a little fine and couldn’t afford to lose time, and were starting to get worried about missing our flight when we finally inched past the cause of the problem, a minor accident. Somehow the bus driver managed to get us to the airport only five minutes after schedule, and we were further helped by the lack of lines for check in.
We were flying Sri Lankan, and were impressed by their friendly staff and tasty meals. We all had individual screens for entertainment (we finally watched Monsters University!) but the screen quality wasn’t great and overhead announcements were so crackly as to be unintelligible.
Sunday 3/11: For the first time in our travels together, we had a layover of a few hours. The arriving flight landed a little late and the departing one left earlier than we thought it was going to, so we ended up with just an hour or so in Colombo, followed by a three-hour flight to Kuala Lumpur. Since we were spectacularly tired by this point, exchanging money and finding our bus to the city seemed quite a challenge, as did getting onwards train tickets and finding our platform at KL Sentral.
We’re staying with our friends Dexter and Natalie, who we met through Couchsurfing last time we were in Malaysia; they met us at the station and took us out for a delicious steamboat dinner.
Monday 4/11: Since we’d been awake for around 34 hours by the time we finally got to bed on Sunday night, it was perhaps no surprise that we slept in on Monday morning. But we were both surprised by exactly how late we stayed in bed: we didn’t manage to get up until 1.30pm. Our usual work day was postponed in favour of trying to get over our jet lag, shopping, and spending time with other bloggers.
We got off the commuter train from the suburbs at Kuala Lumpur station, which, despite its name, certainly isn’t the busiest or most important transport hub in the city. Its domed windows and super-long platforms evoke an earlier golden age of rail travel, but we found it hard to find an exit. A short walk took us to the central market, a squat baby-blue building adorned with a Malaysian flag and packed with shops selling “traditional” Malaysian products: bamboo placemats, scarves, bags, jewellery. There’s also a fish foot spa, which we have visited in the past but gave a miss this time, and a couple of cafés as well. We installed ourselves in Old Town White Coffee and had a cup of their signature sweet white coffee (surprise!) which is prepared in a unique fashion using beet sugar.
Our route to Jalan Alor took us through the Petaling Street markets, which seem to have softened in the two years since we last visited — we were there for a good five minutes before someone offered me a handbag. The products here are a bit more varied than at the Central Market, and tend towards the mass-produced, but we found a couple of things we wanted, such as new headphones, a pair of flip flops each, and a tripod with an iPhone attachment.
Thanks to my new flip flops, I wasn’t sliding around as much on the wet ground, but we still managed to be a bit late for our dinner engagement with Tanya and Andrew from Magictravelblog.com. It was great to meet them, and we had a pleasant evening chatting over chicken wings and Asian greens.
Tuesday 5/11: Jet lag really is a killer. We’ve been lucky not to have experienced it much during our travels, but this week our sleep cycles were well and truly out of whack: we couldn’t sleep when we needed to, and spent most of our waking hours in a fog of tiredness. So passed Tuesday, though we did manage to get Monday’s work done — including recording and publishing a podcast.
Dexter and Natalie didn’t want us to leave Malaysia without first trying durian, so after a tasty Chinese-food dinner with them and their flatmate, they drove us across town to a small durian enclave: four or five stalls, each selling various varieties of the smelliest fruit on earth. Attendants armed with large knives hacked open the spiky exterior to expose the custard-coloured pods of flesh beneath. Craig and I both bravely took a piece and bit into the soft yellow fruit, using our teeth to scrape off the edible part from the large stone in the centre.
They say you either love durian or you hate it. When Dexter told us this, I replied, “I think I hate it.” It really is an acquired taste, and possibly an acquired texture too: the slimy custard-like smoothness isn’t the most pleasant. We both managed to finish our pieces, but left the extras for our friends to enjoy.
Wednesday 6/11: We’ve posted things from Malaysia before, so I didn’t expect it to be difficult to send a small parcel to the UK. Oh, how wrong I was. We’d bought a small wedding gift for a cousin of Craig’s from the Central Market, and I headed off to post it while he worked in Old Town White Coffee. When I asked where the post office was, the woman in the information office directed me “next door,” while a friendly cafe attendant said “it’s just behind here”. It wasn’t, in either case. I found myself on the wrong side of a shopping centre, and a kind security guard walked me back the way I’d come and halfway through the parking garage before pointing at some windows and telling me that this was my destination.
While certainly being part of the post office, it wasn’t what I was looking for, as I discovered when they tried to charge me €60 to send a 350g parcel. Finally another customer directed me upstairs to the main post office, where I could buy stamps for my parcel but not an envelope that would fit it — I found this in a bookstore back near Petaling Street. Once packed, addressed, and stamped, we found that it wouldn’t fit into the mouth of any of the post boxes we came across, even those right outside the (by now closed) post office — where we returned on our way back to Kuala Lumpur station. Luckily, a post office attendant was on hand to direct us to a small room beside the post office, which housed large bins with slots large enough to post our package into. Now, I just hope it arrives!
In comparison with this adventure, our journey through passport control and security at the airport was tame. The biggest challenge was being annoyed about having to empty my refilled water bottle at the second security check, because it meant I had nothing to drink while waiting at the gate and for the first 90 minutes of the flight. Our flight attendant was very friendly, but apparently there was no way she could sell us a bottle of water before it was time to do the drinks run — and of course we were at the back of the plane and last in line. Being at the back was otherwise great, though, as the plane narrowed there and the seat configuration changed from 3-4-3 to 2-4-2: we had a window and aisle and plenty of extra space. I’m very glad that I checked in online back in Skopje!
Thursday 7/11: Our flight arrived in Melbourne right on time, and my sister, Anna, flew in from Canberra a few minutes later — it was perfect! She drove us back to her place and gave us the grand tour of her new house and farm (including a stop to see the baby alpaca). Anna’s husband Mat took Craig and three-year-old Henry for a trip on the quad bike to check out a pump (or something); I snoozed on the couch with baby Leo on my lap.
Friday 8/11: I love visiting supermarkets in different parts of the world; some of the products for sale are so interesting! However, when Anna and I went to Coles, I spent most of my time choking in disbelief at the prices. I’ve lived in Australia so I know things are expensive here, but somehow I’d forgotten. It’s also probably not fair to compare with Berlin, where everything is so cheap.
At least the eggs we collected from the farm chickens were free!
Saturday 9/11: Anna and Mat’s house had a large basement that they’ve converted into a unit, but it’s not quite finished. I spent a bit of time down there with Anna and Henry, sweeping floors and varnishing woodwork, while Craig was on babysitting duty. He later installed himself in the kitchen to use the skills we’d learned at our Tuscan cooking class last week, and though the pasta didn’t turn out quite as well as we’d hoped, it was still delicious!
Sunday 10/11: Craig often brings me coffee in bed on a Sunday, but I’d never have expected it from my sister. She said she was just sharing the love because Mat had taken her one earlier — whatever the reason, it was awesome! She continued the awesomeness later in the day by producing a great lunch and a delicious dinner of roast duck. Yum.
Monday 11/11: I’d never have thought DIY was my thing, but the flat that Anna and Mat are installing in the basement of their farmhouse is nearly finished. I spent most of the day down there varnishing, masking up cornices, and vacuuming, in an attempt to speed along the process so it would be all done before we left.
Anna and Mat both had to work in the evening, so they left us with the kids. I might be biased, being their aunt, but I have to say that these kids are awesome. Henry (who’s three) is polite and self-sufficient, happy to play with his trains for hours on end. He’ll rope you in to play with him if you pass by, but if not, he’ll amuse himself. He even ate all the food we gave him and sat quietly at the dinner table! Madness. And three-month-old Leo is the happiest baby in the whole world. The look of joy he gave me every time I went to check on him in his bouncer was heart-melting.
Tuesday 12/11: Since we’d got the varnishing done the day before, the flat was ready for carpet! The workers spent most of the day installing it, and Craig and I pulled off masking tape for an hour or so while Mat cooked a delicious dinner.
Wednesday 13/11: Although Mat had been enjoying the rain (“it fills the tanks!”) the rest of us weren’t too enamoured with it, not least because it stopped us from furnishing the flat. Luckily we had a couple of hours’ respite in the late morning, which allowed us to bring some of the furniture over from the shed, and Craig and I assembled beds and did some touch-up painting while Mat hung cupboard railings. Anna was overjoyed when she came home from work in the afternoon, and suggested that we have a sleepover in the flat that night. So we did. She pulled out a bottle of champagne that she’d had since we were all in Epernay together five years ago, as well as some Czech mead; a weird Hungarian spirit; and a couple of other delicious drinks: we celebrated in style.
Thursday 14/11: None of us really wanted to leave the flat, so we spent the morning down there, eating breakfast and entertaining some guests who dropped by. Eventually, though, we had to move upstairs: Craig and I had to pack our bags in preparation for our flight to Christchurch.
Anna and Henry kindly took us to the airport, where Henry shared his bowl of chips with us and Anna told us about the Virgin in-flight entertainment app. It’s a great idea: you can use your smartphone to access free entertainment over their in-flight wifi, saving them the cost of seatback screens and keeping prices low.
Friday 15/11: It was Canterbury Anniversary Day and Norrie and Anne (Craig’s dad and stepmum) had the day off work — so we went to the races. I’d never been before, or at least had never bet, but this first foray was a success: we won over $100! After a small win on the first race and a reasonable return on the second, we noticed a horse called Sunny Kash in the third race. Since we have a mate called Kash, we decided to bet two dollars on it. The odds were so strongly against poor Sunny Kash, that when it came in first (by at least two lengths) we got $134 out of it. Awesome. Needless to say, we now owe Kash a beer.
Saturday 16/11: Norrie and Anne had organised a party in honour of our return to the Shaky Isles (i.e. New Zealand), so we spent most of the day preparing for it. The sun was shining so brightly when everyone arrived that spots in the shade were highly sought after; we moved inside a bit later on when the wind picked up. It was a lovely evening with great food and good people.
Sunday 17/11: The last time we were in Christchurch, most of the city centre was off-limits. Now, many of the earthquake-damaged buildings have been pulled down and it’s safe to stroll through the Red Zone, which we did in the early afternoon. It’s sad to see so many flattened lots where iconic buildings used to be, and a lot of the city still sits behind fences, but everything’s looking a lot better than it did two years ago.
I was pleased to see that the Cashel St pop-up mall Re:Start was still going strong. Apparently it’s going to be taken down when more of Christchurch is rebuilt, but I really hope city planners leave it standing — it’s an iconic symbol of a city rebuilding itself after disaster.