Anna&Sam/ European Excursions/ 2006/2007
European Excursion 4
Ruins and religion in Roma
Below is a map of Europe with Pins showing the European destinations that we have travelled to during the 2006/2007 period. Over the subesquent pages you will find our emails and photographs from those journeys.
A bonny bonny beat ‘bout Scotland
Our outing in Oxford
Canoeing in Cambridge
Those crazy Belgians
Family time in Bournemouth
Light fun in Brighton
Wir liebe Berlin und Potsdam
Ciao from Northern Italy
Circumambulating theCinque Terre
Goggling the Guggenheim
Guten tag Dresden
All text written by Anna Scott and Sam Jennings. All photographs taken by Anna Scott, Sam Jennings and travelling buddies. Edited by Sam Jennings.
Pizza Perfect Bay of Naples
Top-notch Tallinn and hibernal Helsinki
Beer and bits in Bruges
My goodness, my Guinness
Brewed Blendin Granada
Highlights include stepping into the Duomo of St Peter’s in Rome, watching New Zealand play Brazil in Football, hiking the hills of Skye, punting in Cambridge, drinking beer in Brussels, drinking at Oktoberfest, trekking the Cinque Terre, oggling the Guggenheim in Bilbao, attending the Viennese Opera, admiring the art in Paris, drinking gluwine in the Dresden Christmas Markets, hugging ancient columns in Agrigento, wandering around Pompeii, climbing the Acropolis in Athens, drinking hot chocolate in Tallinn, running round the canals of Bruges, bbqing in Oslo, eating sorbet in Granada, listening to the four seasons in Venice, eating salt in Krakow and getting engaged in Prague. We would like to thank our families for without their help we would not have been able to travel. We would also like to thank our friends whom we travelled with, and let us stay with them.
Italy/Rom Ruins and religion in Roma
Our first foray into Europe was a trip to Rome, Barcelona and Amsterdam. It was brilliant to get back into travelling after 7 weeks on Hamish’s floor in Hackney. Rome was a brilliant starting point for Europe with the mix of ancient and Renaissance buildings and yummy food.
Rambling round Roman ruins After our first taste of early morning Ryan Air and finding our campsite we spent our first afternoon going around the Roman ruins; the Colosseum, Constantine’s Arch, Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, Circus Maximus, Arch of Titus, Trajan’s Forum and Column. Walking into the Colosseum was like watching our Latin/Classics books come alive. We were impressed with the sculptures they have on exhibition and enjoyed walking around the inside, up and down the various passage ways The queue to get in was not too bad, nothing like we had prepared ourselves for.
Vatican City vistas
The next day we went straight to the Vatican City (our camp ground had a direct shuttle bus which was handy) and explored St Peters. For breakfast we stopped at a street cafe and ate delicious jam croissants and had a café latté while standing at the bar; a neat experience!
We then joined the queue for St Peters which moved along fine. We chose to first go up the domos and cupola for 4 Euro (must do for anyone visiting). After walking up about 300 steps we reached the top of the inside of the Basilica dome. The onslaught on the senses was incredible; we were set-upon by the sight of the mosaics, the sounds of hymns, prayers and music, the smell and taste of incense and the feel of ancient marble. It is a memory that will stay with us forever. After spending a long time there, we proceeded up another 320 narrow, sloped and windy steps to the outside cupola for stunning views of Rome and the Vatican grounds. Once we were done taking many many photographs, we delved into the interior of the Basilica to which included one of Sam’s favourite Michelangelo’s sculptures; the Pièta.
We had a yummy lunch of toasted pizza/panini and wandered down to the river past Casa Sant Angelo, and across the river to the heart of Renaissance Rome; a warren of cobbled streets with amazing architecture. We treated ourselves to the darkest, richest chocolate gelato, and wandered down to the Piazza Navona. The piazza contains three excellent fountains with an obelisk, and is circumferenced by bright buildings.
On our last day in Rome, we spent 2 hours queuing to get into the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel, which was well worth the wait! The queue was not too bad as we had water, Annaâ€™s iPod, our Europe Rough Guide and some nice Brits to talk to. We will never forget the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo, which was simply breathtaking, the library frescos by Raphael, or the amount of booty that is stashed behind the Vatican walls.
The giant domed Pantheon is around the corner, once home to all the gods before being altered to a Christian church. The light coming through the apex opening still has a magical quality. The engineering work on the vaulted ceiling is exceptional. From there we walked to the Capitoline Museums overlooking the Roman Forum. The museums are in a inner square designed by Michelangelo. We spent a couple of hours wandering through and marvelling at all the Greek and Roman sculptures and the frescos that adorned all the walls, including an excellent bust of Commodus dressed as Hercules. Having just about exhausted ourselves we had a delicious dinner of ricotta and spinach cannelloni, and fungi tortellini.
Soaking up the atmosphere We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the streets and alleys of Rome in the bright sun, soaking in the atmosphere of the City. We went back to Trevi fountain to throw a coin in, visited AugustusÂ´ tomb, climbed the Spanish steps and had a delicious blue cheese pizza and wine at a side street cafe followed by some tasty hazelnut gelato. A lovely end to our stay in Rome.
rcelona Batty Barcelona
We had a whirlwind single day in Barcelona, as it was the easiest way to get from Rome to Amsterdam.
Barcelona was not entirely how we imagined it and a lot more expensive. After checking into our funky backpackers in the centre of the Gothic Area of town, we toured around some of Gaudiâ€™s buildings, the organic forms of the unfinished Sagrada Familia in particular were incredible. We climbed to the top of one of the seaweed formed towers for the real experience (tangled stair cases and amazing views).
Spanish streets The afternoon was spent in the Picasso Museum/ Gallery where we learnt about how his style developed and a bit about his life and influences without containing his best work. One of the main highlights, just as in Rome, was wondering around the tiny streets looking at the elaborate shop windows (tasty chocolates and sweet and savoury treats) and sharing a delicious lunch of saffron rice stuffed in a roast red pepper with salad at the market off La Ramblas, and a dinner of small blue cheese and ham paninis with a latte.
Holland/ Amsterda Arty Amsterdam
Amsterdam was the third part of the original foray into Europe. We stayed with Anne and Steven, a lovely Dutch couple we met in Thailand.
Airport sham to Rotterdam
Unfortunately we picked the wrong airport during our flight from Barcelona to Amsterdam, and ended up purchasing another flight to Rotterdam. After the drama of missing our flight we ended up having quite a nice day. The sky was clear for most of our flight so we had amazing views over Southern France and saw the Pyrenees Mountains.
The weather was decidedly cooler in Rotterdam and wet! We carried all our bags down to the Boijmans Museum of art. The Museum has an amazing collection of Manet, Monet, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Sisley, Degas, Rodin and Dali. It also had some interesting modern art and medieval art – it was strange to see it all in one building. We found everyone in Rotterdam very friendly and eager to help us, at the mere suggestion of us looking at a map people would come up to us to ask if we needed help and suggest things to see. The trip from Rotterdam to Amsterdam only took one hour on the train and then a 15min tram ride to Anne’s flat. No problems with that. Anne made us a yummy dinner of Moroccan vegetables and couscous followed by a traditional Dutch desert; a chocolate and vanilla custard thing. It was lovely to catch up with Anne and Steven and see their photos from their trip.
Ambling around Amsterdam Amsterdam is a very picturesque city marbled with canals, sloping brick buildings with arched shutters, thousands of bicycles and coffee shops. We started our explorations in the Dam area (town centre), full of tourist and fashion shops. We ended up going to an exhibition of Ukranian Art from Kiev in the main Cathedral which was impressive. Afterward we went to the Anne Frank House (queues are shorter in the evening) in the Jordaan area. The museum was very good and very sad. Going through the house gave you a good feel for the way things would have been in World War Two; you could even go into Anne’s room where she had stuck pictures of movie stars on her wall. It was a sobering experience. The Jordaan area is very nice, it was originally old workers slums but has now been gentrified and is the uber classy area full of beautiful buildings.
am Preposterous progressions through precipitation for paintings The weather on our second day was rather horrible, wet and cold. We ended up in a 1 3/4 hour long queue to get into the Van Gogh Museum. Again like seeing the Picasso Museum it was interesting to trace his work from beginning to end, especially interesting as he was self taught and did not have the education that Picasso benefited from. They portrayed his life very much as a struggling painter who was always in need of a sale and never quite comprehended how talented he was. Of course it was well into the 20th Century until people did start to really value his work, thanks mainly to his Sister in law. We spent what was left of our day wondering around town but the bad weather forced us home. Sam made a lovely tomato soup, and Anna baked beautiful blue cheese scones for dinner to repay Anne for her hospitality.
Cruising canals On the final day of our mini trip we continued wandering around Amsterdam, visited the markets and went on a canal tour. It was nice to have a different view of all the buildings, paths and bridges from a lower angel.
and/ Gentile Geneva Sam, Michael, Morgan and Marcus travelled to Geneva to watch the All Whites play Brazil in football, Brazilâ€™s last warm up game before the World Cup. All the guide books are right about the Geneva, it is beautiful but a little dull. The lakes and the old buildings are very pretty, but the city lacks a vibrant heart to entertain. It is a small city that can easily be walked in a day which is rather nice, it means you can set a leisurely pace and still see everything.
Petite pretty old town The Old City was great. We stopped at a nice cafe in a cobbled square by the Arsenal and Town hall for a great coffee. The Town Hall is a lovely building with a three storey ramp so that dignitaries could attend meetings at the top by horse back. Further along the hill, Saint Peterâ€™s Cathedral is impressive, if a somewhat Spartan protestant gothic building. The view from the top was breath
taking. The city falls away into the lake and surrounding mountains while the buildings in the old town all have red tiled roofs. We visited the history museum, which contained some nice art work and an impressive arsenal of medieval weapons and armour. Morgan and Marcus arrived late on the Saturday.
Sunny solitary Sunday The sun was out in force on the Sunday, but the town was asleep. No shops were open and having explored everything on the Saturday there was nothing much to do other than lie in the park soaking up the rays. The soccer between New Zealand and Brazil was awesome; it was so cool to see the top Brazilian side play, and witness their speed and accuracy. The atmosphere at the stadium was electric. Brazil put out a line up including Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Adriano, Roberto Carlos, Robinho and Kaka. Brazil won 4 â€“ 0. It could have been worse if not for brilliant work by the New Zealand keeper Moss. The kiwis hounded the Brazilians well.
Scotland/ Highlands A bonny bonny beat ‘bout Scotland
Wild in Scotland
Anna and Sam did the Wild in Scotland tour with Pip.
We had a great group of 16 for our tour, headed by Simon, a cool local guide that was an excellent story teller. We started in the mist, which soon cleared to glorious sunshine as we reached Linlithgow palace, the former home of Stewart Kings. From there we went on to Stirling, climbing up to the Wallace monument, erected to commemorate his victory on the plains below over the English. Simon gave great insight into how the battle was fought, and how so few Highlanders beat a larger and better trained English army; by picking their ground and using the single bridge over the river to channel and contain.
Edinburgh amongst the clouds and cows
We caught a very cheap overnight bus (Megabus) to Edinburgh from London and luckily managed to get a bit of sleep. Eventually we stopped in the cloud enshrouded city of Edinburgh and found our hostel in the lower city (Edinburgh is split like a two tiered cake).
We started with the Museum of Scotland (always a good introduction); looking at the changes in religion, from Paganism to the entry of St Columbia then St Andrew, followed by the reformation and the rebellion of the Jacobites. The view from the roof top terrace was atmospheric as the castle kept fading in and out of focus through the fog.
We rolled down the Royal Mile, stretching between the two palaces of Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood House. We enjoyed peering down all the small wynds and closes, laid out during the middle ages. We had some yummy double chocolate fudge and tasty hot soup in a dimly lit pub, before listening to a choir in St Giles Cathedral. The Scottish Parliament building down by the palace at the lower end of the mile is pretty amazing and crazy (£400 million later...). From the palace, we climbed Catton hill to the National Monument (an attempt to rebuild Athen’s Parthenon that ran out of money after 18 columns) and more views of the clouds covering the city. Next we walked along Princes Street past the Scott Monument to the National Gallery which housed a small but excellent collection of Botticelli, Raphael, Velaquez, Titian and Rembrandt. After finally conceding that the cloud was not going to lift, we charged Edinburgh Castle and took it by force (once paying). We were lucky with our timing and walked straight into a free guided tour which was full of useful information on the history, battlements, chapels, artillery, crown jewels, birth room of King James VI and I, and war memorial. The castle was excellent, and the cloud added to the eerie atmosphere. Cow Parade was going on in Edinburgh. It is an event that has been in Auckland in the past. Many local artists are invited to paint fibreglass cows, and have them displayed across the city. We had great fun finding various cows during our expeditions. Our favourites were; a cow dressed as William Wallace, painted as the Scottish flag, with thistles, as a clown on stilts, covered with flowers and as an xray showing the bones.
Day 1: Wallace territory to the Highlands
Slowly the landscape began to change; the fertile lowlands gave way to the lonely tussock hills and lochs of the highlands. We paused in Glencoe and climbed high up to a beautiful waterfall. Glencoe like much of Scotland has a sad story in it’s past. It was here that a Clan was wiped out by Scots acting for William of Orange because the chief was late in signing his allegiance to Orange.
From there we went to say ‘hoo-noo’ (how you doing now) to the Isle of Skye, with brief intermissions along the way for beautiful views of (reminiscent of a map of Scotland) and Eilean Donan Castle, which is beautifully situated in the middle of a loch surrounded by high mountains. For dinner we had a lovely curry cooked by a couple of Indian boys on the tour. We stayed in Kyleakin on Skye. The small town is famously known for Queen Mary who lived locally in a castle (now ruins). Her husband did not pay her enough attention, so she made her own fun. Mary had large chains forged and fixed across the loch. When a ship came, she had her men lift the chain barring entry to the town until the ship paid a levy. However, Mary quickly repaid the ship’s crew by giving them a quick flash; earning her the name Saucy Mary.
Day 2: Isle of Skye Our second day was purely on Skye, like the day before the weather started ominous but soon cleared to an even more beautiful a day. We were very lucky with the weather as Skye is generally known as an island of clouds. We started the day with a brief walk through a peat bog under in a valley by the Cuillin Mountains. The Cuillin Mountains are named after an Irish Giant who stopped the terror on Skye caused by their local giant Scahath. It turned into an entertaining walk with several girls falling peril to the peat bogs and coming out rather muddy and cold. From there we stopped in another valley to hear the story of the Old Man of Storr (a giant stone placed by a faerie to commemorate the man who saved his life) then descended the cliffs to the sea for lunch and a swim under a bonny wee waterfall. Next we went on to Portree, Skye’s capital, a bonny wee town with a lovely harbour. Afterwards, we headed inland to the Quiraing Mountains, where half the group (minus the soggy girls who were pointed in the direction of a small river to fall into) walked up and up and up, affording stunning vistas of the surrounding valleys, mountains and lochs. It was absolutely beautiful. To come back down the mountain our guide convinced us to have a go at a good old fashioned Highland charge; the only way Highlander’s knew how to fight. Holding imaginary clamours in hand and yelling ‘Aboo’ at the top of our lungs we charged down the steep tussock hills trying not to fall over. Simon surged into an early lead but once Sam got used to the terrain he caught and passed him to win the charge (and probably be first to be slaughtered by the English).
On the way to the Faerie loch we stopped at a micro-brewery to pick up some nice Scottish beer (Sam got Hebridean Gold; Porridge Oat Ale), homemade spicy apple relish and fudge and relaxed on a hill in the sun with more bonny views. Finally we went back to our base and played frisbee while drinking drams of Whiskey before a nice pub meal of fish and chips. Only a few cars and one lovely old lady were slightly bothered by the frisbee.
Day 3: Nessie and Culloden With a wee tear in the eye we said ‘cheeree’ to Skye and headed back to the Highlands. Somehow Simon (the guide) convinced us that we had to swim in Loch Ness, else we would always regret ne’er doing it. So we stripped down to our small clothes for what has to be the coldest swim of our lives. Still, now we can say we swam with the mighty beast. Our final stop was at the tragic battlefield of Culloden, where the Jacobites under Bonny Prince Charlie were gunned down by the English in 40min. We felt very affected by it all. Standing at the Jacobite front line you could see that they had no chance in the swampy ground with their Clamours and 2 shot rifles against the cannons and well drilled English army. It was a very sobering experience. The rest of the day involved lots of driving, getting a wee bit lost, a bit of drama, and a quick pub lunch (mmm soup and sticky toffee pudding). We only just made it back to Edinburgh for the train in time - we were sweating it out a bit. Then a long train journey home chatting to two guys who had just run the Edinburgh Marathon and were hobbling along. All in all a little too much transit on the last day. Still we left with happy memories and great experiences.
England/O Our outing in Oxford
We had a fun day in Oxford. Our day started early and we arrived by bus around 10.30am in Oxford. We did not have a plan for the day, instead we just ambled around the cobbled streets, gazing up at the gargoyles lining the stone buildings, and enjoying lying on manicured lawns the sun.
Learning in the library We started off with exploring the Bodleian Library (previous home to the Oxford press, where a copy of every book published is kept on the premises) and climbing up St Maryâ€™s spire for views of the City. After this we ambled down High Street to the covered markets where we had a delicious toasted sandwich of lentils, roast vege, goats cheese, pesto and toasted seeds - tasty!
Skipping class at college In the afternoon we went to Trinity College (unfortunately closed for a function), browsed at Blackwells art bookshop, and explored New College. New College, despite what the name may suggest, is the oldest college built in Oxford but not the oldest college (it is a former monastery) having been founded in 1379 for priests during the black plague. We passed into the front quadrangle and visited the Hall (felt like walking into a mini Hogwarts), and then through the garden quadrangle to the garden. This is where we lay out on the grass and had a rest, pretending we were
Oxford students again. The garden was enclosed on two sides by the ancient city wall. Every three years the Lord Mayor and Corporation of the City of Oxford ‘circumambulate’ the wall to assure themselves that the school is fulfilling the obligation of maintaining the wall. After lying out on the grass we went to explore the College’s chapel. The church was quite different from anything we have seen before. The whole altar wall was covered in many 1 metre high statues of Christ, Aposltes and Saints. There were also some impressive stain glass windows in the Ante-Chapel.
Once we left New College we hurried to Christ Church College but unfortunately we were too late to get in. We did find out later that large parts were closed for functions anyway so were only a little bit disappointed. May/June is apparently not the best time to come as there is graduation and various other functions. We did have a look at Tom Tower which is home to Tom the Bell. Tom is 7 tonnes and at 9.05pm every night it rings 101 times for the 101 original students to tell them to return to the College. An early curfew!
Schools out We finished the day with some book shopping and a lovely pub meal - vege pasta and salad and shared a delicious sticky toffee pudding and back on the bus to London. All in all a lovely day, that made us very envious of the students there.
England/ Cambridg Canoeing in Cambridge
We had a lovely day in Cambridge. We caught the train up from Kings Cross, passing Anna’s work at Hatfield halfway. The sun was out in force and everything was green. As in Oxford we concentrated on wandering around the old streets and popping our heads into the colleges. We entered King’s College which was very impressive, especially the large Chapel with a fanned ceiling.
The highlight of the trip was punting on the river Cam. Due to the lovely weather, there were many people out on the water. Rather than risk punting ourselves and ending up in the water, we joined a group. Our punt was named ‘Fat Cullum’, and we had the front seats. The route travelled from the southern part of the old city up to St John’s College and back again.
Brussels Those crazy Belgians
We travelled to Belgium to hang out with Jonathan, our friend who we travelled with in Vietnam and Cambodia.
Bucketing in Brussels
After a nice speedy journey through the Channel Tunnel on the Eurostar we were picked up from the train station by Jonathan. Unfortunately the weather in Brussels was atrocious, so we scurried around from building to building under umbrellas. We visited the Grand Place (central market square) with the gothic Town Hall and other amazing buildings, visited a neat Arcade and saw the bizarre Belgium statue/country idol, Manekin Pis; a statue of a boy peeing that they like to dress up in little costumes (Oblex, Japanese warrior, Elvis etc...). To escape the rain we went to the Royal Palace for a free exploration (lots of gold and impressive rooms) and to a couple of Cathedrals (they love their gothic architecture). We ate chocolate and had waffles fresh from the street (YUM). After getting fed up with the rain we decided to shelter in a Belgium pub and have a kriek; cherry beer (Anna finally found a beer she likes!). Jonathan drove us to the supermarket where we stocked up on Belgium chocolate, then onto his parent’s house where he made us crepes for dinner. That night we hit the town in Leuven, sitting in the old market and drinking kriek while conversing with Jonathon’s Spanish class friends.
Belgian for a day
Our second day started very late, as we had a good sleep after a long first day (4am Friday - 2am Saturday). Our sleep in was helped by the strange outdoor shutters that block all the light at night (and day). Once awake and fed we toured the Atomium; a giant structure in the shape of a Crystal Iron Atom built for the 1958 Expo. It has recently been renovated and is looking resplendent. We toiled up all 103m for brilliant views of the City in the distance and the surrounding parkland. It was weird and kitsch, but definitely a fun tourist attraction. Afterwards, we had a drink (kriek) in Jonathon’s home town (very small) with his Mother, Aunt, Grandmother and cousin. A total of 5 different languages were fluently spoken around the table (often simultaneously). His grandmother made us promise to come back and visit, she was very sweet. Saturday night we headed back into Leuven where Jonathan dropped us off with Pieter, one of his friends, to stay the night. Jonathan was leaving at 1am the following morning to go camping in Brittany. Pieter was absolutely lovely; we had a nice dinner of pizza with him and a couple of drinks. He had spent the last 6 months teaching children and adults in Honduras how to use computers. Sounded like an amazing time for him. We have invited him to come see us in London sometime.
Beautiful Brussels On our third day, Pieter took us to the train station and we caught the train back to Brussels and found a nice hotel by the train station. This time we were lucky with the weather in Brussels and enjoyed wandering around retaking our photos. To celebrate a lovely time, we treated ourselves to a nice meal of mussels, frites and kriek by the Stock Exchange building. We left Belgium with full tummies, and plenty of chocolate (Godiva, Neuhouse and Cote d’Or) and beer in our bags.
Family time in Bournemouth
outh We had a good time down in Bournemouth with Sam’s Aunty Rosemary and Dave. We caught the train down and got in at 10am on the Saturday. We walked up to the heads which gave nice views of Bournmouth, Christchurch and the Isle of White, then back down along the boardwalk by the beach. We had a swim, although it was not very pleasant as it was very windy so the water was churned up and there was plenty of seaweed. We helped Rosemary with dinner and dessert. Dinner was a lovely tomato, pesto and cheese tart for dinner using cherry tomatos from Rosemary’s garden. We made the dessert; peach and mango meringue flan - very tasty. After dinner we watched Whale Rider which made us all miss home. Their house was lovely, it was great to be in a place that felt like a home. Sunday was fairly relaxed as the weather was not so nice, we went out for breakfast then spent the rest of the morning reading (I have started the Time Traveller’s Wife). We went for a short walk in New Forrest (neither new nor a forrest) then caught the train back to London at 3pm.
England/B Light fun in Brighton
Anna, Sam and Hamish had a nice day in Brighton. We caught the train down from Kings Cross Thameslink and arrived to a wet day. We wandered around the lanes, popping into the little knick knack shops on our way down to the beach. We ambled along the pebbled beach between the fun fair pier and the old burnt pier. After a tasty lunch of fish and chips we walked up and down the tacky fun fair laughing at all the over priced rides. Once the noise became too much we wandered back up to the lanes past the Regentâ€™s Palace, and caught the train home.
Germany/ Wir liebe Berlin und Potsdam
We had a fantastic time in Berlin; it was one of our best trips to date. This was due largely to Anna’s friend Sebastian who spoiled us by driving us everywhere, taking us to nice restaurants and trying to pay for everything. Anna really enjoyed catching up with Sebastian after 2 and a half years and we all got on well. We were in Germany for 3 days, Saturday and Monday in Berlin, Sunday in Potsdam.
More museums than you can shake a stick at After a very tiring trip from London (got up at 1am!), Sebastian greeted us at the airport and treated us to a nice brunch in the West Berlin. We started our tour of Berlin at Alexanderplatz in East Berlin, under the shadow of the Iron Curtain… I mean TV tower. We wandered through a Communist square to the start of Unter den Linden (the main boulevard running down to Brandenburg gate), following it down to Museuminsel (museum island). We purchased day passes to all the museums and visited the Pergammon Museum, the Altes Museum and the Neue Nationalgalerie. The Pergammon museum is amazing and full of ancient treasures that you wonder how they ended up in Germany. The museum’s name derives from the the central attraction; the Pergammon altar. The altar was transported stone for stone from Turkey and reassembled in the museum. It rivals the Parthenon marbles in the British History museum
for excellence. Another highlight is the Ischtar Gate, which is the processional gate from Babylon; bright blue ceramic bricks with bright yellow lions prowling in 3D.
The Altes Museum houses the German Egyptian collection and is also wonderful. The clear highlight of the museum was the bust of Nefertiti. The Neue Nationalgalerie (art) was a say-so gallery missing an outstanding piece to lift it.
After being thoroughly museum-ed out, we carried on down Unter den Linden to Brandenburg Gate. Nearby, we visited the new Jewish Memorial; a city block containing many rectangular columns at varying heights in a grid pattern. You could wander through the ‘tombs’, feeling lost in it all. Underground is a Jewish museum that is also done very well. It starts off by illustrating the timeline of events from early Nazi book burnings through to the liberation of the concentration camps. Next you read the stories of some of the individuals Jews and what they went through in their own words, written on whatever scraps they could find. The third room contains information on different Jewish families from around Europe, tracing their professions and what happened to all of them. Throughout it all the ceiling is the reverse of the blocks that we walked amongst above ground. It was a very sobering experience. To bring ourselves back up (figuratively and literally) we went back to Alexanerplatz to go the top of the TV tower and see all the sparkly lights of Berlin below. We followed this by going to a traditional Bavarian restaurant and had traditional Bavarian food while drinking Oktoberfest beer and listening to a brass band (cheesy but fun).
Royally resting in Potsdam Feeling refreshed after a long sleep, we took things a little easier on the second day in Potsdam. We spent most of the day in the Neuer Gartens, a lovely large park created for the Prussian and German Kaiser’s. We toured two of the palaces; Neues Palais and the Orangery. Neues Palais was excellent; we wore giant slippers over our shoes and slid along the marble floors admiring the ornate walls and ceilings. The Orangery afforded lovely views of the park. Sebastian took us to a delicious restaurant in Potsdam that used to be patronised by German stars of the silver screen before the war, for more yummy Saxon food (mmmm swinehaxon) and beer. Potsdam is a lovely small place with a quieter feel, low rise buildings and a very large movie making complex. It was sad however to see the large empty villas that were owned by Jewish families before the war in disrepair due to uncertainty over ownership. We finished off the night by watching ‘The Pianist’ at Sebastian’s apartment. The movie is about a Jewish pianist in Warsaw during WWII, and was very moving, especially after the Jewish memorial the previous day.
Brilliant Berlin On our final day, we awoke to a yummy bakery breakfast of donuts and rye bought by Sebastian to sustain us for a long day. Sebastian drove us to Berlin Hauptbahnhof (central train station) to deposit our bags for the day. The station has recently been finished and is an amazing multistory building with U-bahn, S-bahn, trains and shopping mall all encased in a cool arced glass roof complete with a bear buddy parade (including a NZ one!). Sebastian dropped us off in town and we said sad goodbyes. We started off with the Berlin Dom, an impressive large baroque basilica with great views of the city from the top. We wandered down Unter den Linden to Gendarmenmarkt, which has a classical building flanked by two identical churches. We carried on down the boulevard stopping at the Guggenheim (strange art of 99 wolves jumping into a glass wall) and the library on route to the old Reichstag building where the Bundestag Parliament is housed. The Reichstag building is an impressive mix of old and new Berlin. A fancy glass and steel dome housed in a baroque exterior. We went up the top for more lovely views of the city and an amazing view of the central funnel of the dome. From there it was on to Potsdamerplatz for a spot of shopping, before going back to Hauptbahnhof for the train to the airport. Our plane was delayed, there were massive queues at Stanstead customs and it was 2.00am before we got home!
Germany/ Stuttgart/ Oktoberfest
Sam had a fun 5 day trip to Stuttgart and Munich with Michael and Mike.
Day 1: Schlossed in Stuttgart
Sam and Michael arrived in Stuttgart with no idea how to contact Mike, who had been training around Europe. After wondering around the town a bit, and a meaty kebab we bumped into Mike at the information office – lucky.
Stuttgart was nice, and the weather lovely. We lay out on the grass in the Schlossplatz (Palace square), then wondered around the old town. It was the first day of the Stuttgart festival, so we went down for our first taste of Oktoberfest. The grounds were very large, and contained 4 or 5 beer tents, and many many carnival rides, all with flashing lights and things spinning around. We went into one tent (Dinkel Acker) for a maß (big glass - I always thought they were called steins) which was fun.
Day 2: Stuttgart to Munich
We heard that there was a parade on in Stuttgart, so went in search, walking along the parks and roads from the central town to the festival grounds. But alas we could not find a parade. Still, the parks were nice. We headed back to the train station and booked a rental car, as we worked out that between 3 of us it was cheaper than the train. Mike drove, as we headed onto the famous Autobahn. We drove a slightly roundabout way to Munich, taking advantage of the car; stopping at a small town with a neat church with an onion top, and a nice lake full of yachts.
While dropping off the car in Munich, Corb and Kelly (friends from uni) walked past. It was amazing to see them, as we did not know that they were in Munich. They had just come down for the day with Kelly’s cousin. We only had 15 minutes to catch up with them but arranged to meet again the following day before they caught a train to Heidelberg. That night was our first at the Munich Oktoberfest. The grounds were much larger and the tents more numerous and over twice the size as Stuttgart’s. We poked our heads into most of the 10 large beer tents, and settled on Paulaner, as it was very lively and the beer was tasty. To get a maß, you have to be at a table, which is somewhat difficult when there are so many people. Eventually we were able to squeeze onto a table next to some Dutch people. There were many kiwis in the tent, and I even met a nephew of my 7th form calculus teacher.
Day 3: Many maß in Munich We met up with Corb and Kelly again for lunch in the beer tents. We went to Hacker-festzelt Pshorr, an impressive looking one with a roof like the day sky, and all the walls painted like Munich. Corb and Kelly were well, and have been travelling for 8 months. Afterwards we went back to the hostel to rest up before another night in the tents (Schottenhamel tent). We met up with Moritz, a friend of Michael’s whom he met in Dunedin. Afterwards, we hit the carnival, riding on the roller coaster and a crazy ride that rotated along three axes at once.
Day 4: Meandering around Munich Unfortunately our good weather ended, and the rain set in. However, we were not deterred and spent most of the day wandering around Munich. We walked to Marienplatz, a large pedestrian shopping area, and saw the Gothic Neues Rathaus (town hall) complete with mechanised figures. We went into Asamkirche, which was a lovely church, and then on to Michaelkirche, the largest Renaissance church north of the Alps. We climbed up one of the two 100m onion domed towers for spectacular views of the city. From Marienplatz we wandered past the large mustard coloured Theatinerkirche to the Englischer Gartens. The English Gardens is a very nice, very large park, complete with a cool man-made river with lots of impressive waterfalls and rapids. We rested in our hostel for a short time before going back to Oktoberfest. We had a fun final night in the Schottenhamel tent, which was very full of younger people dressed in lederhosen and dirndl.
Day 5: Dedication to the dead of Dachau After a late rise into another grey day, we headed out on the S-Bahn to Dachau, a truly sobering and sad experience. Dachau is an infamous concentration camp for good reason. It was one of the original political prisoner camps, set up by Hitler only three months after he became Reich Chancellor (March 1933). The basic organisation, camp layout and method of treating the prisoners was designed by Kommodant Theodore Eicke, and served as the prototype for all subsequent concentration camps. So this is the camp where the in-human treating of prisoner’s in WWII was developed. There was a special SS training camp next door, where SS soldiers were trained in their horrible ways, and sent out amongst the rest of the empire to spread the “Dachau spirit”. The site was massive, including 30 living barracks (all 100 x 10 m), sick bays, maintenance building, parade area and ‘The Bunker’; where torture was carried out. In a separate area to the side, was the crematorium and gas chamber, made to look like a shower block. The camp was designed to house 6000 inmates at once, but the numbers soon swelled to over 30,000 - 5 times the intended capacity. There was a film shown, and information was everywhere as to how the prisoners were treated, the history of the Nazis and other horrible things. We spent three hours out there. It was a bit of a sad way to end a fun trip, but well worth going. We cheered ourselves up afterwards with a kebap and one last look around Oktoberfest before going on to the airport, home to London.
Italy/Cinq Ciao from Northern Italy
Circumambulating the Cinque Terre
Mum and Dad stayed with us for 5 days. After that, Anna bid farewell to Sam as she headed with Mum, Dad, and Hamish to Italy. We flew to Genoa which is on the west coast of Italy in the north. Mum had found out about a walk in the Cinque Terre (5 lands) which she wanted to do. It was very easy to find our way to the beginning of the walk from Genoa, well catered for tourists. We stopped the first night at Monterosso, and stayed in an average room that slept the four of us. We then decided to head down to Manarola the next day to a hostel that Dad had heard about. We found a lovely green apartment high on aâ€Żhill with a kitchen, balcony and all that we needed. We decided that it was best to leave our big packs there and then head on the main walk the following day with just day packs. We headed to Riomaggiore that afternoon for a swim in the Mediterranean sea followed by a lovely coffee and walnut tart at a cafe hanging onto a cliff. Breathtaking scenery. The next day we decided to do the bulk of the walk,
4 hours in total. It was a tough walk as you weaved up high and down between the little bays. The paths were very narrow in parts too. We walked from Manarola to Corniglia, then onto Vernazza for lunch and a climb up the castle, and then back through to Monterosso for a well deserved swim. I am glad that we did this walk now, not in peak season. We met people from all around the world along the way, lots of different languages and the common language being body language (exhaustion being a common expression!). We spent our last night in Manarola at a lovely restaurant. Mum and I shared a huge seafood risotto. It is always nice to eat seafood when you can hear the waves washing onto the shore.â€Ż The next day we were up early and off to La Spezia and then onto Pisa.
Picturing Pisa Pisa was a flying visit. We dropped our packs off into storage at the station and walked across town to see the leaning tower. It was nice to see the leaning tower and take a few pics. As we had been told we soon realised that there is not much else to Pisa and we headed back to the station. We did manage to find a cute little cafe which did tasty coffee and paninis quite cheaply.
Lovely Lucca At the recommendation of a tourist office we found ourselves in a beautiful medieval city called Lucca. Lucca is just a train ride north between Pisa and Florence. We found a lovely bed and breakfast to stay in and set out about to explore. There was an antique market on and plenty of people around. It was a neat little city and completely walled in. We all fell in love with Lucca and decided to stay for a second day. We hired bikes on Sunday and joined the rest of the residents of Lucca and cycled around the city wall. We spent the rest of the day ducking in and out of the many Churches and climbing high up a bell tower to see over the sea of orange brick roofs. At 3pm on Sunday the streets came alive as the shops opened. Stylish Italians strutted the pavements checking each other out. I felt a little shabby in my travelling clothes. Mum and I looked fondly at the windows and the lovely Italian leather shoes.
Florence flair Our first day in Florence was a little disappointing. We all missed Lucca which had fewer tourists and was not nearly as busy. We were a little disappointed with our accommodation too that Dad had booked from home. We spent the day wondering around the streets and nipping into the many markets. On the second day we when to the Uffizi Gallery. It took an hour wait to get in. It was not quite as spectacular as I had envisaged. Unfortunately the Rembrandt room was closed. My favourite painting I think was The Birth of Venus, followed by a painting of a girl by Goya. The view from the Uffizi along the Arno was glorious. Everything improved vastly in the afternoon when we got to visit David. David was magnificent. We spent 2 hours in the queue, well Dad did, as Hamish, Mum and I slipped off to see De Medici Chapel and some of Michelangeloâ€™s handy work. The ceiling in the Medici Chapel reminded me of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, stunning. We got sore necks from looking at it. Once we got into the Academia to see David we spent quite a lot of time viewing him from every angle. Stunning. Breathtaking. Beautiful. Unfortunately you cannot take photos anymore due to a controversial cleaning project. I picked up a postcard though and did one sneaky shot (shhh).
Spain/Bilb Burnished Bilbao
Goggling the Guggenheim
Anna, Sam, Anna’s parents, and Hamish had a great time in Bilbao, northern Spain. Some would say Bilbao is a strange choice for a trip but Anna has been fascinated by the Guggenheim Museum ever since studying it at University. It was designed by Frank Gehry on a 32,500m2 site in the heart of Bilbao. It stands more than 50 metres high and is constructed of pink titanium, sandstone and glass. With its curves, bends and angles it is truly stunning. Needless to say many photos were taken and many visits were made at different times of the day to get full appreciation of the effects that the change of light had on the building.
We chose to explore the inside of the Guggenheim on Sunday when the shops were closed. We were lucky to arrive in time for our very own English tour of the museum. The guide had a close eye on Sam who was behaving rather like a naughty child on a school trip getting overly excited. The art inside was true to the elaborate exterior. We all particularly enjoyed Serra’s exhibition of cast iron ellipses, snakes, circles and wave shapes that stood
around 4-5m high. You were able to walk inside the shapes which was quite an experience in itself as the iron contracted and expanded above you as you moved to the centre. The exhibition was purpose built for the building and installed before the roof was built.
Shopping the streets
Anna and her mother indulged in a bit of shopping. Zara (Anna’s favourite shop in London) is from Spain, making the prices much more affordable. We also enjoyed riding around on the eco-friendly electric trams that ranged on grassed tracks like giant bugs. We had a quaint little hotel in the Old Town with a very helpful host. For dinner we couldn’t help but have tapas and wine and found a lovely pastry shop. We soon learnt that the saying that the dirtier the floor is (with used napkins etc) the better it is, is true.
Sunny San Sebastian After spending a couple of days exploring Bilbao we moved on to Sans Sebastian for a day to wonder along the Coast and dip our feet into the water. Sans Sebastian is a resort town for Northern Spain. We headed back to London, Anna’s parents on to Spain.
Austria/V Vunderbar Vienna
Vienna was the first of three consective weekends travelling to Europe (and only a couple of weeks after Bilbao). Anna and Sam travelled to Vienna with Annaâ€™s parents, Neil and Lorraine, and brother Hamish.
Evening flight We tried something different on this trip and left work early for an evening flight - yay, no early morning trip to Stanstead! We flew to Bratislava, and caught a coach to Vienna. When we arrived in Vienna it was late and freezing cold. We eventually worked our way to our wonderful hotel and flopped into bed.
Seeing the centre
It was great waking up in the city we were visiting. We helped ourselves to a brilliant buffet breakfast at the hotel then went exploring.
We started at Stephansplatz, the central square. The large gothic Dom was very impressive, with liquorice all-sorts looking tiles on the roof. Anna quickly located a chocolate store, and purchased some Mozart balls that were recommended by a friend. They are small chocolate spheres with a marzipan centre, very tasty.
Vienna From Stephansplatz we wondered down to Peterskirche, a small but highly impressive baroque basilica. The interior was kitted out in marble, fluid sculpture and lovely frescoes. There were two scary mummified noblemen in a couple of the chapels!
We followed the Christmas streets down to Hofburg; full of large baroque palaces and the Spanish Riding School. We stopped off on the way to admire an amazing cake shop, with some of the coolest sculptured cakes I have seen.
We strolled through the Volksgarten to the Rathaus (town hall), an impressive five towered gothic building. The Rathaus was decorated as a giant advent calendar, with large doors hiding surprises (it was still November, so we did not see any). We missed the free tour by 5 minutes, but snuck into a few ornate rooms before attacking the Christmas Markets outside. Anna was very excited by the Christmas markets, full of food, Gluvine (mulled wine), decorations and other Christmas paraphernalia. We enjoyed some carrot cake ď Š Vienna's inner city is encased by a ring road where the old city wall used to stand. We caught the #1 Tram once around the ring road, seeing the sights before returning to Peterskirche for an organ recital. To finish the day we had some Viennese wein (sausage).
Markets, museums, churches and opera We started Saturday with a trip to the weekly flea and food markets on the edge of the inner city. It was fun observing all the antiques and tasty food. We picked up some yummy olive focaccia and hummus which we ate in Stadtpark. The MAK museum (design) is free on Saturdays, and contained some cool and varied decorative art. We enjoyed an exhibition on the best 100 posters from 2005. Afterwards, we visited a couple more baroque churches, Dominiquekirche and Jesuitkirche. The former was more sedate, and felt more like the locals church. The later was an amazing, over the top church with large candy coloured spiralled columns. After a big day on Friday we went back to the hotel for a rest before a big night. We went to the Vienna State Opera, in their amazing Operahaus. We bought 2â‚Ź standing tickets for the gallery and some opera glasses. It was very busy, and we only just managed to get tickets. Experienced patrons buy the standing tickets, then race up and reserve their space by placing a scarf over the railing, then leave it there while relaxing elsewhere. All the best places were taken when we arrived, so everyone split up to try and sneak their way in. We found a place by slightly pushing apart 2 scarves and making room between. The Opera we saw was La Sonnambula (the Sleepwalker) by Vincenzo Bellini. It was a typically silly story but the singing and set were very good. Unfortunately due to a number of factors (it was very hot, we had not yet had dinner, and our legs were tired from standing and walking all day) we only stayed for the first act, skipping the second.
Art and architecture We started off our last day with the Belvedere, two palaces either side of manicured gardens, both housing art galleries. The Upper Belvedere was the better of the palaces, housing an impressive collection of Austrian and French works. The highlight was the Kiss by Klimt, a dazzling work painted mostly in gold. From there we wondered around the Museum Quarter. MUMOK (modern art gallery) had a full sized single bedroom house upside down smashed into its roof which looked very impressive. We then visited the Christmas markets in front of the Rathaus one more time, before visiting the Danube. There was an impressively large basilica on the banks which we visited as night set in, making the church very atmospheric.
France/Pa Pretty Paris
Paris was the second weekend of the three. Anna and Sam travelled with Anna’s parents, Neil and Lorraine, but not Hamish.
Sight seeing Saturday
We caught the Eurostar from London to Paris; it is much easier and quicker than flying, no far out airports, or waiting round. We quickly located our hotel in the Bastille region, found a lovely patisserie and headed into town. We started outside the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall), which had ice skating outside, then walked over to Ill de la Citee. We visited Notre Dame Cathedral, looking resplendent having recently had its stonework cleaned. The stained glass windows were lovely. We carried on walking west along the island, coming to Pont Neuf; the oldest bridge across the Seine. This gave us our first look at both the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower (which was larger than I remembered). Having crossed the bridge we walked past the Louvre to the Tuileres Gardens, down to Place de la Concorde (a big obelisk gifted by the Egyptians) to the start of Champs Elysees. We caught a bus down the big boulevard to l’Arc de Triomphe. We wondered around the arch, with the eternal fire for the Unknown Solider, and a Veteren who enjoyed posing for the tourists. Unfortunately at this stage it started raining, forcing us back to our hotel.
We were very lucky with our timing for Paris, as most museums are free on the first Sunday of the month. We made the most of this, visiting Musee de Louvre, Musee de l’Orangerie, and Musee d’Orsay. We started the day early, arriving at pyramid inversee underground in front of the Louvre at 9am. Trying to beat the crowds, we raced straight to the Mona Lisa. From here we took a more leisurely pace wondering through the various painting galleries, looking at works from the Renaisance (Leonardo, Raphael, Titian), French Romanticism (David) and Dutch Masters (Rembrandt, Van Eyk), with a bit of Greek (Venus de Milo, Victory of Samothrace) and French sculpture thrown in.
The rain settled into Paris while we were in the Louvre, and we had to wait for 45 minutes outside in the Tuileres Garden to get into Musee de l’Orangerie, as the wind turned our umbrellas inside out. Not good, especially when you are already sick. The wait was worth it though, as we got to sea Monet’s Nymphaes. These comprise of 2 large oval rooms with extremely large water lilly canvases encompasing all four walls. The galleries downstairs also had good collections of Monet, Renoir, Modgliani, and Picasso. We had a break from Galleries as we did not want to wait again in the rain. However the rain suddenly stopped and beautiful sunshine poured in. So we went back to d’Orsay and just managed to make it into the Gallery before the 5pm cut off. We had a very short 45 minutes to see the gallery before the doors shut, not enough time for an amazing gallery, set in an old train station. There were many paintings by Monet, Manet, Pissario, Renoir, Degas, Cezanne and Van Gough.
City with a view We awoke to more rain on Monday morning, so we hit the shops. Luckily though, the sun broke through again so we immediately headed to la Tour Effiel. We climbed the first levels, then caught the lift to the top (both cheaper and faster than waiting in the long queue at the bottom). The views of flat Paris were amazing. If only they got rid of la Tour Montparnasse, then you would really feel like you were floating above it all. Next we caught the Metro to Monmatre, walking up to la Sacre Cour; a beautiful Byzantine looking white basilica. The altar and some of the chapels were beautiful. We finished with some lovely crepes and souvenere shopping before heading back to Gare du Nord and home.
Germany/ Guten tag Dresden
Dresden was the third and final weekend of the three. It was just Anna and Sam (Anna’s parents had gone home) with Sebastian our German friend.
We flew into Berlin and caught the train down to Dresden. On the train we met an Australian couple who were travelling around, we chatted very easily with them for our 2 hour train ride. Once in Dresden, Sebastian’s parents were standing on the platform holding signs saying “Anna”. His parents were lovely, large smiling Germans that could speak enough English to have a conversation. We stayed at their house in Friedberg (30 min from Dresden). We had a bedroom, living room, bathroom and kitchen all to ourselves - it was almost as large as our entire flat in London! While we waited for Sebastian to arrive we were treated to traditional German baking; cakes and biscuits – yummy. We timed our trip perfectly. Friedberg is founded on the strength of silver mining in the district, and they had their annual miner’s parade on the Saturday night. The miner’s dressed up in traditional ceremonial gear, lots of silver buckles, cool hats and boots with awesome looking tools and axes. After the parade we had gluwine (mulled wine) and sausages in the Christmas Market, then went to the main church for their annual Christmas concert (Bach). After the concert we went to a local restaurant and had yummy Saxon food. Sebastian’s parents would not let us pay for anything. I think we were the only tourists around, it was an excellent night.
/Dresden Christmas markets everywhere
On Sunday we looked around Dresden, looking at what remains of the old city (Dresden was fire bombed at the end of WWII). They have some beautiful old schloss and palais. We went to three Christmas Markets in Dresden. The first was medieval in tone, set in a courtyard between some of the old buildings. There were performers playing old instruments, and all the markets were in old fashioned tents. The market had a great atmosphere. We had some more gluwine and food.
The main market (the oldest in Germany, approximately 700 years old) was very very large, and packed with people. There were so many stalls selling all kinds of food and gifts (nuts, chocolate, lollies, donuts, meat, Christmas decorations, wooden figures etc). There were also various gaming huts like at Oktoberfest. On the way back to Sebastian’s parents house, Sebastian took us to another small town where they do a lot of the hand carved wooden figures and decorations. We went into an amazing shop; like Santas workshop. It was hard not to buy everything in it! Sebastian’s mother cooked us a wonderful dinner of goose, kraut and potato. The goose was lovely, moist and rich. It is their traditional Christmas dinner, we felt very spoiled to have it cooked for us.
Shopping in Berlin Sebastian drove us back up to Berlin on the Autobahn. We wondered around Checkpoint Charlie, reading hoardings about the Berlin Wall, East Germany etc. Then we visited another Christmas Market, a bit more flash, but not as good as Dresden’s. Sebastian drove us to the main shopping district where there were yet more Christmas Markets and the Remembrance Church. The Church only partly survived the WWII bombs, but what survives is amazing. We got a very large kebab each for dinner, headed to the airport and home. We were lucky, our flight was early, there was a short queue for customs and we got straight onto a bus for London – yay. So we got home at 12.30 am. Last time we flew back from Berlin it was 2am.
Italy/Pale Superb Sicily Sam, Anna and Sam’s Mum Jenny travelled around Sicily, the Bay of Naples and Athens. Sicily is like nowhere we have been before. Its history of being conquered by many different nations (Punic, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Norman and Swabian) has created a place like no other. A catch phase for the trip has been “Just like Asia” due to the crowded tiny winding streets, bustling centres, speeding scooters and general chaotic atmosphere.
Palermo Potpurri Late last Thursday night we arrived in Palermo and were taken to a cute little apartment on a tiny medieval alley way. After a good nights sleep we set off to explore the sights of Palermo. We trundled across the square to the Duomo, and then ambled down past the Quattro Canti (the spiritual crossroads of the city) to the Pretoria Fountain and down to the Mediterranean Sea. After relaxing for a bit we visited the Martorana and the San Cataldo (which was about to host a wedding but we snuck in anyway). On the top sat three salmon coloured domes. Martorana is a tiny
medieval church adorned in golden mosaics with an amazing atmosphere. For dinner went to the lovely restaurant called Risi Bisi next door to our apartment. We had dinner on two nights there, delicious risottos and beef cooked with red wine and chestnuts. Lovely staff, lovely atmosphere. On our second day we caught the bus up the ridge line to Monreale, to visit an amazing Arab Norman Cathedral. The Cathedral is pimped out in golden mosaic with a giant melancholy Jesus occupying the entire apse behind the altar. After this we wondered around the town and got some Sicilian New Years Cake (dried fig, chocolate chips, almonds, ginger, glazed cherries). Once back in Palermo we went to the Piazza Dei Normani. The palace contains the Palatine Chapel which was a miniature version of the Catherdral in Monreale. We went on a guided tour around the Palace and visited the first ever Parliament in Europe dating back to 1132. We then were taken through the Chinese tea room, the Mosaic room, the Pisam Tower and given commentary.
Italy/Agrig Tranpani and Enchanting Erice
On the New Year’s Eve we headed back to Palermo airport to pick up our gorgeous little Smart Car For Four. We zoomed along on the right side of the road (Anna bravely took the first stint) to Trapani. There was not a lot to Trapani which was a bit of a ghost town with deceiving Majolica (green tiled) Duomos which always seemed close but elusive. We did find some delicious caldo pane (hot bread). From Trapani Sam did some excellent driving weaving our little Smart Car up to the enchanting medieval hamlet of Erice. We had a great time wondering the cobbled streets bathed in a pink glow from the setting sun. We explored the Cathedral with laced ivory coloured vaulted ceiling then walked around Castello Pepolis’ grounds with stunning views of the sun setting over the valleys below. After the sun set, Sam drove us back to Palermo. We got a wee bit lost on the shambled streets of Palermo, but eventually found home. We finished the year with an excellent dinner of artichokes, peppers, cherry tomatoes, fennel and lemon salad, olives, gorgonzola, pecarino cheese and stone oven baked bread from the local markets washed down with local Nero davola wine, and followed by New Years cake of course.
On the road On New Years Day we set off down to Agrigento, stopping at Corleone and Erclea Minoa on the way. We visited a few Churches but as it was time for Mass we could not enter all of them and fueled ourselves with coffee and kivi (kiwifruit) tarts. Tasty! Erclea Minoa is the site of a Greek Theatre, sitting on the Coast over looking the white cliffs and honey coloured sand beaches of Sicily’s southern coast. We had a brief stop here for lovely views and theatrics.
Ancient Agrigento The main reason for stopping in Agrigento was to visit the Valley of the Temples. We treated ourselves to a Jolly Hotel (literal name) and consequently were well rested to explore the Temples. The Valley of the Temples is on a ridge line looking down towards the sea. It houses a number of temple complexes including the Temple of Hera, Temple of Concorde, Temple of Zeus (complete with a giant atlas statue/column) and the Temple of Herakles. We enjoyed taking many pictures and climbing amongst the ruins.
Italy/ Piazza Arm Pretty Piazza Armerina
After another long drive we arrived in Piazza Armerina. We explored the mosaics of Villa de Casale. Almost the entire floor plan of the building was covered in intricate mosaics (3500m2). The mosaics depicted animals, hunting, Chariot races, bikini girls and erotic scenes.
We stayed in an old monastry converted into a hostel (Ostello del Borgo). The rooms were all white plastered and austere complete with crucifix. Piazza Armerina was a lovely small city with a neat Duomo that dominated the hill top sky line. The surrounding streets were narrow medieval affairs.
Sight Seeing Siracusa
From Piazza Armerina we drove to the Coast and down to Siracusa. Along the way we hit snow (good driving Jenny), rain and brilliant sunshine. Siracusa was an interesting mix of Greek, Roman, Baroque and modern boom town. We found an average Pensione with an odd old fellow for a host. The beds were okay but the power did not want to stay on. Highlights in Siracusa included visiting Ortygia and the Greek and Roman Ruins. Ortygia is a Baroque and Roccoco island off the mainland. It has lovely narrow winding streets, little shops and a lovely bakery (almond cookies and spinach calzone). We enjoyed strolling in the day and evening and visiting the Duomo; originally a Greek Doric Temple (you could still see the colonnade).
Traipsing Taormina Taormina is a lovely resort town perched on a cliff to the British Aristocracy and 50â€™s Hollywood Icons (Liz Taylor and Richard Burton used to stay). Parking was non existent and they had a huge carpark outside the town with a bus service to get up. We enjoyed a delicious seafood dinner (baked snapper), shopping for hand painted ceramics and exploring the Romanised Greek Theatre with spectacular views of the bay and Mt Etna.
rento Pizza Perfect Bay of Naples Big drive
We set off from Taormina in the pouring rain heading to Messini to catch the ferry across to mainland Italy. One small accident and a bumpy ferry ride later we landed in Italy. A few hours later having gone through countless tunnels and viaducts past numerous road works we landed at Happy Moments. Well the food was happy, the room was happy but the noise levels were crappy. We had the fortunate luck of landing the night that a children’s production was on.
Sorrento As we left the main Autostrade to Naples Sam did some impressive driving through the back streets to find our way onto the Autostrade to Sorrento where we joined the rest of Italy to get into Sorrento. From a recommendation in our book we stayed at a lovely B&B /Cookery School/Excellent Restaurant (€15 for four courses). The hotel had lovely staff and a HUGE dog named Spike. There was not a lot else to Sorrento itself but we enjoyed wondering around and doing some shopping and having a break from driving!
Peerless Pompeii We did a day trip on the train to the ruins of Pompeii. We were very excited having studied Classics/Latin at school. Pompeii was spectacular. We arrived early (8.30am) to beat the crowds and headed straight to the Villa of Mysteries in the far corner. We had the house to ourselves to wonder around the winery, kitchen, atrium and room of Bacchus. After this we headed off on a day’s itinerary that Sam had found on The Times website. We toured around the City wall and then down around the suburbs – House of Apollo, House the Fawn etc. We then visited the Stabian Baths, the brothel, a couple of bakeries, takeaways and public toilets. You could almost imagine Romans clothed in togas walking the streets and doing their daily business. In the afternoon we explored the other end and went to the Amphitheatre and training grounds. From here we went to the grand and little theatres and Sam did some wonderful Roman Comedy – haha. Behind the theatres was the Temple of Isis – the must see Pompeian Ruin for Masons. We finished off Pompeii with the Roman Forum and Basilica where the judiciary was held. All through Pompeii you could see plaster casts of people who had been caught in the ash from the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD. Vesuvius is a dominating form on the near horizon. Listening to our audio guides we heard how most of the buildings were under renovation at the time following an earthquake in 62AD.
Roma As we were flying out of Rome we did just one night in the HILTON! The best bed in the world! We made the most of the free shuttle into Rome and popped in for dinner. We had a lovely Italian meal served by friendly staff.
Greece/At Ancient Athens
We arrived in Athens in the afternoon and found our way on to the sparkling new Metro into the centre of Athens. It was not too difficult to find our accommodation; just a stones throw from the Acropolis. We had a tasty cheap dinner on our first night which included Souvlaki, lamb on the bone, Greek salad and stuffed peppers.
On the second day we went straight to the Acropolis having filled up on Greek yogurt and honey. We passed through the Propylia Gate up to the Parthenon and Erechtheion. The sheer scale of the Parthenon was breathtaking; it was gleaming with white pentalic marble, Doric columns, and perfect dimensions. The caryatids (marble female columns) on the ionic Erechtheion were beautiful. We also visited the museum and imagined all the Parthenon Marbles that are sitting in the British History Museum. Leaving the Acropolis we descended to the Agora, a Greek version of the Forum, visited a Byzantine Church and the Temple of Thission. As the temperature soared we relaxed in the Theatre of Dionysus then crossed over to Hadrian’s Gate and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. The rest of our time in Athens we visited the Museum of Archeology (stacked full of marble sculpture and Agamemnon’s mask), shopped, saw the amusing guards of Parliament (complete with pom pom shoes) and wondered around the trendy Plaka District. Sam even finally managed to purchase a leather satchel – YIPPEE!
England/ Stratfordupon-Avo Shakespeare’s Stratfordupon-Avon
After a large period of travelling at the end of 2006 which all but cleared out our money we decided to have a little break. Luckily, England had a fairly moderate winter.
Sam was working for John Laing bidding on railways and had a Chiltern Railways pass. We decided to use this, bought Anna a cheap day return and headed up to Stratford-upon-Avon; the birthplace and burial site of William Shakespeare. Unfortunately the weather was not great with a mean mist settling in and nver clearing. Stratford-upon-Avon is a quaint small market town full of tudor timber framed houses with thatched roofs. The train station is a little out from town, but we purchased a map and made our way quickly to the open market centre. From there we ambled down to the Avon River. We visited the theatres trying to get tickets to a Shakespeare play, however they were all either sold out or only had expensive seats remaining.
Almost every tourist site in the town is aligned with Shakespeare. The Royal Shakespeare Company run three theatres. You can visit five different houses relating to Sharespeare’s life: his Birthplace, Hall’s Croft, New Place, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Mary Arden’s House. We chose to visit Anne Hathaway’s Cottage in Shottery, which is a short walk down various lanes from the centre of town. Anne Hathaway was Shakespeare’s wife and lived in Stratford even when Shakespear was writing plays in London. The cottage is a large farmhouse of 12 rooms with a wonderful timber frame and thick thatching. Inside was period furniture and kitchen. The gardens were also lovely.
Estonia/Ta Top-notch Tallinn and hibernal Helsinki Top-notch Tallinn
On Maundy Thursday evening we left a lovely 18 degree day in London to a chilly 0 degrees in Tallinn. We flew out from Gatwick which is a much nicer airport than Stansted and so much easier to get to! We got picked up from the airport in Tallinn and taken to a gorgeous little apartment in the old city. We were next to a lovely church with a large spire which will was an easy landmark for us to find at the end of our adventures. We had a lovely first day wondering around the Old City and into the New. Tallinn is the capital of Estonia and is circumbobulated in a medieval wall. Estonai only became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991 and has a checkered past of occupation (Danish, Swedish, German and Russian). The cobbled streets and colourful old buildings were charming. Some of the buildings along our street had doors on the upper floors and must have been used as warehouses. We were on the artesian street, the next street over was the merchant street. It was chilly but everyday had a lovely blue sky. We found a lovely little cafe with mixed matched furniture which we kept going back to. It was like walking into your Grandmother’s house. They made the best hot chocolates with considerable cinnamon sticks as spoons! There is a very strong cafe culture in Tallinn with plenty of options to tempt the cold and weary.
On the western side of the old city stands Toompia; a hill that we hiked up a few times. It has great views of Tallinn and to the port. It had also had a lovely Russian Orthodox Church complete with onion domes. We snuck in and got to hear some of the singing for mass on Easter Friday. For our first dinner we had a tradition Estonian meal. Anna had roast pork with sauerkraut (cabbage dish) and I had blood sausage with pickled pumpkin and sauerkraut. I think the tastiest part of the meal was the appetiser which was black bread that had been toasted and whole cloves of garlic which they gave us to rub on it. Simple and delicious! After dinner we relaxed and watched DVDs on our laptop and may have consumed a bit of chocolate!
Hibernal Helsinki On Saturday we decided to make the trip over to Helsinki for the day. Firstly we were running late (of course) and nearly ended up going into a dog show. We did think it was funny that people were bringing their well groomed dogs on the ferry!
The ferry terminal was located at the back of a monolithic communist exhibition centre.
After asking the dog show organisers where to go we went around the back to the ferry building. We brought tickets with 5 minutes to spare and queued up. there two options for ferries over to Helsinki, one being the slow boats (think Love Boat) that take 3 hours or the catamarans and hydrofoils that take 1.5hours. Needless to say we went for the first option. However the fast boats do not run in the winter and only just started running on 4 April and there was quite a wind.... So we jumped on the ferry thinking it would all be fine. Started out well, bit rocky but kinda fun.... then the rocking got higher and higher and we have video to prove it! Anna felt sicker and sicker, then all the blood went from her face and all was not well in the world! I scooted off to the staff to do a brilliant impression of someone being sea sick and got Anna some pills which she fortunately managed to keep down. We arrived to a chilly wind - it was around 2 degrees and felt very icy. A good way of getting a feel for the city is to either hop on Tram 3B or 3T and do a figure 8 around the City’s sights. We got on and saw the main Cathedral, Central Station, Olympic Stadium (1952 Summer Olympics were hosted there) and many Russian/communist style statues. We were surprised by the strong Russian influence. After that we hit the shops - there were many department stores to chose from and it was nice to get out of the artic wind. We found finding lunch food quite difficult so settled for a croissant and coffee and headed off to the seaside through a park. We sat and wrote postcards but having your hands outside of gloves for too long was not pleasant! It was then time to head back on the fast boat (not something that Anna was looking forward to). We went to check in only to find that they had cancelled the rest of the sails for the day as it was too rough! The only option for us was to transfer our tickets and get back on the slow boat at 9pm (it was only 5pm when we found this out). So back to town and we decided to treat ourselves to a tasty dinner. We went to a traditional Finnish Restaurant. I had a three meat stew with mashed potato and Anna had smoked white fish, then finished off with a lovely dark chocolate mouse and berry gelato. The meals were delicious and served in small cast iron pots on wooden plates. At 7pm we joined the rest of the stranded travellers to get on the slow boat - The Viking. It was HUGE think size of the giant cruise ships that come into Auckland Harbour. They did not have traditional seating arrangements of what you would expect (like the Inter Islander), instead you could sit in a number of cafes. The one we chose was fine for
the first 2 hours until the Estonian Karaoke got into full swing. Needless to say by the time it reached Tallinn at 12pm we were both tired and a little bit grumpy. Oh well it was definitely interesting seeing Helsinki, which was certainly different to the other Scandinavian cities Iâ€™ve been to (Copenhagen and Stockholm).
Tallinn with a view We spent the last couple of days wondering around the old city, climbing things and eating more chocolate. We climbed to the top of the spire on the church next to our apartment. The church used to be the tallest building in the world standing at 159m but after a couple of fires and renovations it is only 124m. It still holds spectacular view of the old city, showing the pretty red tiled roofs and
meandering medieval lanes. We also scaled the old city wall and climbed up 3 turrets. We popped back into our favourite cafe a couple more times and found another one that was just as lovely and made a blueberry cake to die for! We also decided to head out of town a bit and caught the tram out to Kadriog and walked around the park and saw Catherine the 1stâ€™s Palace. Unfortunately it was not open but nice to look around anyway. On our last day there was just time for some souvenir shopping and one last wonder before we had to get our flight back to London. Bit of a hiccup getting to the airport but we luckily made it! Enjoyed watching another DVD on the laptop on the flight back.
Denmark/ Copenhag Composed Copenhagen
Last weekend Anna and I visited Copenhagen, capital of Denmark. We started with an early morning flight, but not too early as with check-in online. At the other end, the city centre is only 10 minutes by train from the airport, meaning that we were at our hotel by 11am, which has to be a record.
Our hotel was in the Vesterbro district, around the corner from the Hovedbanegaarden (Central Station). The district is an up and coming trendy area, but around our hotel it was still full of Thai restaurants and sex shops. Still, it felt safe. We started with a hearty brunch, joining all of Denmark as they partook of bacon, eggs, ham, salami, salad, cheese, fruit and crepes. Brunch is a national past time which we thoroughly agree with.
The weather on the first day was brilliant, not a cloud in the sky (though only 10 degrees). We took full advantage by walking around the sites. We walked around Kastellet with army barracks and a windmill on the way to the Little Mermaid (who thankfully was in one piece unlike last time I was there). From there we walked down to Amalienborg Palace, home of the Royal family and royal guards (like the British ones, but in blue instead). Next on the agenda was Nyhavn, the picture perfect shot for Copenhagen. Nyhavn has very pretty 3-4 story 17th and 18th Century buildings lining one of the yacht filled canals. Every building is now a restaurant and bar, the outside seats were packed, the Danish and tourists were enjoying the sunshine. We sat for a while on the edge of the canal dangling our feet over the water while eating a cranberry sorbet.
Minding the museums After a restless night full of Spanish school children running screaming up and down the hotel corridors, we awoke to a grey but slightly warmer Sunday. We filled up with a lovely smorgasbord breakfast at the hotel. All the shops are closed on Sundays and having seen most of the sites we visited the museums. We started with the National Museum (National Museet). Unfortunately they are currently renovating their pre-history section, full of interesting stuff on Vikings, ie the part we wanted to see. Still the rest of it was enjoyable, especially the parts done up like the 18th century palaces.
You cannot go to Scandinavia without marvelling at their great sense of design. So next we visited the Design Museum; a small but very neat building full of modern appliances, some famous, some yet to be.
We then went to the National Gallery (Statens Museum for Kunst), a building which is a mix of old and new, just like the art inside. There were no great masterpieces here, and most of the art was either weird or disturbing or both. We did listen to some nice piano at the lovely stage in the rear.
Afterwards, we ambled through Rosenborg Gardens to the castle, but it was too late in the day to get in, which was a shame as it houses the impressive crown jewels. We finished off by catching the sparkling new metro to Christianshavn, a small island to the east of the central area, and similar to Nyhavn. We found a lovely bakery and got some delicious food for dinner.
Shopping until dropping After another large breakfast we hit the shops. Strøget is a long pedestrianised shopping street that crosses the central area from the Rådhuspladsen (Town Hall Square) in the west to Kongens Nytorv (King’s New Square, by Nyhavn) in the east. We walked along this popping into stores. To get a better view of the city we visited the Rundetaarn (Round Tower), and climbed the spiral ramp to the top. We had a wonderful view of the red tiled roofs with plenty of green copper spires poking out. Finally we tried to find Frederikslot, an impressive Renaissance palace belonging to King Frederik II which we had seen some wonderful photos of. We caught the excellent S-Tog (overland commuter train system) to Frederiksberg and wondered through the park to where our map said it was. It lead us to the wrong Frederikslot! There was a run of the mill palace of the same name as the excellent one. Apparently the cool one is actually halfway across Denmark, oh well. After this we had to hurry to the airport to fly home. We caught an afternoon flight, which got us home by 8pm – wonderful. No Tuesday tiredness at work for us!
Belgium/B Beer and bits in Bruges Sight seeing Saturday
Anna, Michael and I set off for Bruges early on the Saturday morning upon the Eurostar. We picked our Belgian friend Jonathan up in Brussels along the way. The journey was nice and smooth, much easier than flying.
We arrived to a grey day and quickly found our hostel. It was a lovely place that has been a hotel since 1922. We had an 8 bed dorm with ensuite to ourselves, which was great. We set out upon the city, wandering up the main shopping street to the central market. The central market was lovely, with a gothic town hall, large belfry and many restaurants. We continued to wander around the canals and chocolate shops before stopping for some frites and Belgian beer. After the nice break we climbed the 366 steps to the top of the Belfry, giving splendid vistas of Bruges. It was 4pm when we arrived at the top, and was treated to a concert of bells played by someone on a carillion (a piano hooked up to the bells). We finished off our sight seeing on a canal boat tour. The 30 minute tour was excellent with a knowledgeable guide pointing out all the neat buildings and their history, such as one hotel that has crystal windows. After a long day we treated ourselves to a wonderful meal of all you can eat barbeque pork ribs. The ribs were very tasty, and we demolished almost 100 between the 4 of us. We finished off the day with some more Belgian beer.
Anna and I awoke full of ribs to a lovely bright Sunday morning and set off for a run around the old city. The sky was blue, the canals still and the streets were empty as we ran for an hour around the canals and cobble stones. This was when Bruges was at its prettiest. After collecting Michael and Jonathan we caught a paddle boat to Damme, a pretty small town to the north of Bruges. The boat ride was nice and relaxing. We had a lovely lunch in the pub garden, a small wonder around then back to Bruges. For dinner we ate a hearty Flemish stew in a rich dark sauce (of course with frites). A couple more beers, then off to bed.
It mainly rains in Brussels We awoke on Monday to rain, so headed back to Brussels to show Michael around. Unfortunately it was also raining in Brussels, which reminded Anna and I of our last trip there. We wandered around the Grand Place with the gothic town hall and baroque buildings, and saw Mannekin Pis (fountain of a pissing boy) who was dressed up as a pilot. We quickly met up with Jonathan one last time, then headed home on the train.
Summary Bruges was a lovely trip. It is a very pretty city, almost every building dates from the 17th century or earlier, most with stepped gables and small gargoyles to ward off evil. I have not been a city where the old town is as large and complete as this (Tallinn was as complete, but smaller). The canals were very pretty, especially early in the morning before the tour boats get going. The chocolate shops are all wonderful, and you can get some lovely truffles from chocolatiers other than Godiva, Leonidas and Neuhaus for a fraction of the price. The beer was exceptional, Michael never repeated the same beer twice, Anna tried almost every type of kriek (cherry beer) and Sam enjoyed them all.
Norway/O Awesome Oslo Finally Friday
Anna, Michael and I all skipped work early on Friday and caught the Stansted Express out to the airport. The airport was not at all manic like we had feared due to it being a Bank Holiday weekend. The flight was fine and we boarded a Torpekspressen bus for Oslo which took a leisurely 1h45m along the fjord to Oslo. We quickly found our hostel and collapsed in bed at 1am. The sun had set around 10pm, but the sky was still light until midnight!
patties, bread and salad and set ourselves down in the park for some alfresco dinning amongst many other groups of young people doing the same. It made for a lovely meal with a great atmosphere in a fantastic location.
Screaming Sunday Mastery Munch
We started off Sunday with a visit to the National Gallery which was small but very nice. The highlight was the room of Edvard Munch paintings including a ghostly self portrait, a deathly Madonna and of course the fluid Scream. The National Gallery is free, whereas the Munch museum is not, yet they both have versions of the Scream.
Karl Johan Gate and the harbour
We awoke on Saturday to beautiful clear blue skies and warm temperatures. We grabbed cinnamon sugar doughnuts for breakfast and wondered up Karl Johan Gate, the main central street that runs from the Central Train Station to the Royal Palace. Then we turned down to the Radhusplassen (town hall square) and the harbour. To our right was Akker Brygge, the newly done up swanky dockland area, and to the left Akershus Slott Festning, the 11th – 17th century castle and fort.
Bygdoy is a peninsular across the harbour from the central city much like Davenport. The peninsular is home to a few museums; Viking, Folk, Maritime, Fram and Kon-Tiki. We visited the Viking Museum which was excellent. The museum houses two almost complete 9th Century Viking ships found in burial mounds along with other artefacts such as sleds, cloth, coins, beer barrels etc. The horde is contained in a lovely building in the shape of a Nordic cross with vaulted ceilings. Anna and I purchased a neat model of one of the ships.
Island hoping in the fjord You can use a standard day pass ticket on the ferries that cross the fjord. The 92 goes to Hovedoya and another island then back, the 93 does a circular rout stopping at a couple of places around the Hovedoya island, and the 94 goes to a bird sanctuary that you can camp on. We spent a few hours catching the 92, visiting the ruins of a Cistercian Abbey, skimming stones on a petite pebbly beach and generally enjoying the sun and the sea.
Anna and I caught the tram out east up to Ekebergsletta where Munch painted his famous Scream. The park gives a lovely view of the city looking back across to Holmenkollen. Anna obliged me by taking photos of me in the screamer pose (: O)>--
We then caught the T-Bane (tube) to Holmenkollen to visit the old Olypmic ski jump most way up the ridge line that runs around the city. We climbed the 132m Ski Jump for brilliant views of the city, fjord and surrounding forests. The ski jump is the second oldest in the world, and has survived many extensions, and will be done up again soon for the 2011 World Championships.
Alfresco dinning amongst the statues To finish the day we caught the T-bane back to Vigelandsparken, a large park designed by artist Gustav Vigeland. There are over 200 bronze and stone statues and sculptures adorning the lush green park. Most of the statues are monumental figures contorting while dancing, fighting, laughing, hugging etc. We grabbed a disposable barbecue, sausages, beef
Løkka is the trendy area of Oslo with expensive funky cafes and neat old buildings. There was a lovely little deli where we got some nice bread and olives for a cheap lunch in the park. We wondered around the grand stone and concrete buildings and the neat old wooden ones for a while before returning to our hostel for a rest.
Mucky Monday Monday was a long journey home. Our bus was delayed, our flight was delayed and the train home was delayed.
Summary It was a lovely trip. Oslo is a beautiful city that appears to be a few buildings amongst the forests rather than a Manhattan of concrete, steel and glass. The buildings are mostly pretty and not built up. The parks are wonderful and numerous. The city is expensive, but by having barbecues and selecting what you really want to see it is not too bad.
England/K Kent castles Heaver Castle
While Sam was busy working, Anna was chauffeured around Kent with Liz by Liz’s friend Catherine.
Luscious Leeds Castle
We caught a Tracks Travel bus to Leeds Castle and Canterbury on a sunny Saturday. The castle grounds are very large and manicured; full of duck ponds and copses. The 100 year old castle spans two islands in a small lake and was purchased in the 1920’s by an American heiress who fitted it out lusciously with period furniture and fittings. There is a parrot aviary and a small maze in the grounds.
Canterbury tales The cobbled streets of Canterbury’s city centre encased by the old city wall is full of leaning timber framed Tudor houses housing old pubs, tea shops, lolly shops and chain stores. The city is dominated by the gothic Cathedral; all pointy towers and flying buttresses. We toured the cathedral, wandering around the crypt, cloisters and tombs of Edward the Black Prince.
England/ Birmingha Not all glum in Birmingham
We took one last advantage of Samâ€™s Chiltern Railways pass to do a day trip to Birmingham. There is not much in Birmingham although the city has been going through a large regeneration process. The city centre is dominated by the Bull Ring shopping centre. The mall has been designed very well with split levels and pedestrian access at different levels to the surrounding streets. The Selfridges building is an amazing piece of curving spotted steal.
We spent most of the day shopping in and around the Bull Ring, going to Selfridges, All Saints, Top Shop, River Island, and H&M amongst others. We eventually made it out of the Bull Ring and down New Street to the City Hall, where a German wine festival was taking place. We then trekked to the Jewellery Quarter, but alas all the shops were shut on a Sunday afternoon.
Ireland/D My goodness, my Guinness
We had a lovely trip to Dublin with Annaâ€™s work friend Liz. The city centre of Dublin is very walkable, full of cobbled streets and 18th Century buildings.
Pub tourism We flew into Dublin on Friday morn, and wandered the cobbled streets of the Temple Bar area while waiting for our hostel to open. The Temple Bar is named after a long gone temple on a sand bar in the River Liffey (though a Bar in the area now trades on the name). It is now an area full of ye olde Dublin pubs. For lunch we had delicious cauliflower and blue cheese soup with soda bread, and Sam had his first Guinness. Dublin trades heavily on its pub culture, with major tourist attractions being Temple Bar and the Guinness Storehouse. We visited the Storehouse in the afternoon. It was a very impressive modern museum, presenting the brewing and branding of Guinness in an atmospheric and futuristic manner. The tour finished with a free pint of the black gold in the Gravity Bar, a 360 degree glass cylinder overlooking Dublin. We stopped at a gastro pub on the way home for dinner. Sam had a hearty beef and Guinness pie, Anna and Liz each had lovely salmon.
Wilde in Dublin Our hostel provided a great breakfast of soda bread, just the thing to start you for a big day of adventuring. We started the day by catching the new tram to the History and Decorative Arts Museum, housed in old English army barracks. In the courtyard sat an impressive Viking Ship. The replica ship was built by hand in Copenhagen and sailed by 100 volunteers over to Dublin. The museum housed a great collection of artefacts and military objects. From the museum we walked up through the regenerated Smithfields to a street with the oldest ‘Dublin Doors’. Dublin is well known for its 18th Century splendour, well displayed by the characteristic doors. We then walked down to O’Connell St to the General Post Office. The post office was the last of the great Georgian buildings built in Dublin and housed the headquarters of the Easter Uprising of 1916. You can still see the bullet holes in the columns. After a lovely salad for lunch and the purchasing of scones for later we wandered around Trinity
College, the birthplace of Oscar Wilde and the Wilde memorial in Merrion Square. We visited the National Gallery; relaxed with our scones listening to a Hare Krishna play in St Stephen’s Green; and did some shopping down Grafton St. From there we headed back to Temple Bar and had a couple of pints while listening to a live Irish folk band playing polka and ditties.
The heather of Howth We caught a DART train out to the Dublin Harbour headland of Howth. Howth is a quaint fishing village rising from a small harbour up into the cliffs. After purchasing some fudge from the local market we set off to explore the headland. The walk was lovely, ascending up the cliffs through the flowering purple heather. We left early and had the walk mostly to ourselves. Afterwards we ate fish and chips by the fishing boats. The weather caved in that afternoon, so after a little more exploring of Dublin we stayed in our hostel to make dinner before departing back to London.
Spain/Gra Brewed Blend in Granada
Like the infusions of the North African tea shops in Albayzín, Granada is a heady mix of cultures; Islam, Christian and Gypsy. The mixed heritage is mostly segregated and lends the city a unique, skewed, dreamy feel.
Tapas, sorbet and raciones Renaissance streets and Moorish Markets After a long journey from our flat to Granada we settled into the Hotel Abadia; a restored 16th century villa, in a lovely Spanish area full of tapas bars, delicatessens and patisseries. We purchased jambon Serrano, queso and bread for a tasty lunch. With the sun shinning brightly, we rambled round the Renaissance streets towards the Cathedral area. Behind the Cathedral are Moorish markets and a spice and tea market.
Arab Albayzín After a siesta, we caught a mini-van bus up the winding cobbled streets of the Albayzín; the old Arab quarter nestled on the hill opposite the Alhambra. The Albayzín consists of steep winding streets flanked by white washed buildings with secret arches and hidden gardens. Slurping tangy naranja (orange) sorbet we lay out on Mirador San Nicholas gazing across terracotta roof tops and the ravine to the Alhambra. The vantage gave us a full account of the large scale of the Arabic fortress and palace and the simplicity of line used on the red façade.
The Nazrid dynasty founded their Arabic Kingdom in Granada in the 13th Century, building their citadel in the Alhambra. The Nazrid Palace was the official residences of the Sultans, consisting of many courts, cloisters, throne and dining rooms.
Each room has brilliant tiled geometric patterns covering the lower part of the walls, bordered by Arabic praises to Islam in stucco. The archways consist of marble columns supporting delicate stucco filigree carved into beautiful patterns. Each room was encased by impressive vaulted ceilings, echoing the heavens through stars and stalactites and curves playing with the light. The courts contained serene rectangular ponds flanked by myrtle and babbling fountains, overlooked by trellised windows where the harem would vie for position. Rest of the Alhambra Next to the Nazrid Palace stands Charles V’s Renaissance Palace, much larger on the outside and containing a large circular court. There is also a church and a hamam (bath house) on site.
The Eastern end of the Alhambra has a commanding view of the fertile plains upon which the city now spreads. This is the site of the original fortifications, and remains an impressive set of towers and ramparts that would still prove hard to siege. The main tower still flies the flag of Ferdinand and Isabella, the Christian monarchs who pushed the Moors out of Spain in January 1492. The Generalife
Dancing architecture, sports and gypsies
After the decorative excesses of the Sultans palace and hardness of the fortress we retreated along the Alhambra wall out to the soft Generalife (pronounced Hen-er-a-leaf-ee, meaning Architects Garden). This area is well away from the rest of the Alhambra, and gives more lovely vistas back at the palace and fortress as well as the Albayzín. The flowery gardens, fountains and ponds around the summer residence of the Sultans were very relaxing. We finally tore ourselves away from the Alhambra at 2pm.
Rugby, tapas and tea
We awoke early the next day and caught the bus up to the summit of the Alhambra. Wisely, Anna purchased our tickets online so we were able to beat the long queue and get straight in at 8.30am. The tickets come with a time that you must enter the Nazrids Palace by. We lazily strolled through the gardens on the way to our 9.30am time slot listening to our audio guides.
After a solid siesta we headed to an Irish bar to watch the All Blacks v Scotland in the World Cup. Unfortunately after 20m heavy cloud (the only cloud of the weekend) rolled over Granada shorting the signal, so we headed back to the Albayzín stopping at a tea house. We had a delicious pot of chai and tasty chicken in Arab bread.
Spanish pallete We wound our way down the Albayzín past North African tea shops and tourist stalls to the Plaza Neuava. We stopped for a couple of drinks, olives and jambon before looking east for dinner, where we had lovely paella and more vino Rioja.
Fast flamenco We caught a bus out to Sacromonte, another hill behind Albayzín, giving lovely night time views of the Alhambra. Gypsies settled here, carving their houses into the hill side. We ate simple but tasty raciones of beef and bean stew and patatas tortilla in a cosy cave before watching a flamenco show with a large glass of wine. There were three musicians dressed all in black playing guitar, clapping and wailing while four dancers strutted and tapped impressively.
Cathedral and Food We started our final day by going to the Cathedral, a massive baroque complex. The interior had clean white lofty ceilings walls and giant pillars, pocked with elaborate guilt altars. The Capella Real (Royal Chapel) is adjoined to the side of the Cathedral, but with it’s own admission price. The Chapel houses the tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella as well as Juana la Loca, and Felipe el Hermoso. Their tombs were intricately carved slabs of marble crowned by their effigies. Stairs next to the tombs showed the crypt containing their iron clad coffins. A museum contained Isabella and Ferdinand’s robes. The rest of our last day was spent re-doing our favourite parts of the city, shopping, drinking tea, drinking red wine, eating tapas, and wandering the cobbled streets.
Italy/Veni Surreal Venice
After a bit of a hiccup with our accommodation and a nights stay at a family home (long story), we set about exploring Venice. Although you have heard about it and seen pictures nothing quite prepares you for the experience. There is something quite magical about the grand buildings descending into endless canals, getting lost in narrow alleys and climbing bridges while gondolas float by. The city dates back to 827 and the main part is made up of no less than 118 islands. The city is also free of cars which is a delight for any traveler. We started by exploring Piazza San Marco, the Doges Palace and inside Basilica di San Marco which truly has walls made of gold. The top of the Campanile di San Marco gave us great panoramic views across a misty Venice. When we got sick of the crowds we could easily escape the tourists by stepping back a few streets from St Marks Square and see a different side of Venice. Getting away from the tourist trail also made it easier to find a cheap panini or gelato. After crossing the famous Rialto Bridge and peering in shop windows, we spent the afternoon hiding from the rain and exploring a couple of the many art galleries. The Peggy Guggenheim on the banks of the Grand Canal was full of big name artists ( Picasso, Kandinsky, Tanguy, Duchamp, Pollock, Dali, and Mondrian) but maybe not the pieces you would expect. Peggy Guggenheimâ€™s final resting place is in the garden of the gallery with her many dogs. We then moved onto the Academia which was sadly a bit disappointing. We could not find Di Vinciâ€™s Vetruvian Man and apart from a couple of rooms featuring large Venetian city life scenes the gallery needed some TLC.
The Rugby Did not know whether to mention this or not. After a delicious dinner (clam gnocci and scallop speghetti) we went to a funky looking Jazz bar to watch the game. We met a lovely kiwi couple who made room for us to watch the game. You all know the result so I will leave it there.
Day Trips On Sunday we decided to head off the main island and out for Burano and Murano to do some shopping and sight seeing. Murano is famous for its glass and there are lots of tempting crafts to buy. We obliged. Burano has tempting lace crafts (again we obliged) and brightly coloured buildings lining smaller more intimate canals. We took a longer route back coming back around to Grand Canal with wonderful views of San Marco and the Doges Palace.
The Four Seasons For Annaâ€™s Birthday evening we had a lovely dinner out at a restaurant close to our Hotel. We shared a delicious seafood risotto followed by a stunning tiramisu. We then went onto a concerto of Vivaldi Four Seasons performed by 4 violinists, a cello player and a pianist all dressed in 18th Century costume. It was located in a 16th Century School complete frescoes on the ceiling. Need I say more...
Last Day.. Our last day was spent going through the less touristy, more residential side of Venice. We wondered and got lost through alleys and ended up at the Arsenale. We completed our circuit with a trip along the Grand Canal on one of the vaporetti. It was a perfect way to finish before dashing to our Hotel to pick up our bags and head back out to the airport.
Poland/Kr Crazy Krakow
Saturday morning, well you could call it Friday night because it was 2.30am! We headed off to our beloved Stansted to catch our flight to Krakow. We landed nice and early, getting to our hostel in record time. The hostel was great, we were treated to a cup of tea and smorgesbord breakfast in the kitchen while being checked in and told about the sights and sounds of Krakow. We booked in for the Salt Mines Tour that afternoon and a tour to Auschwitz on the Sunday. While waiting for our room to be ready we did a quick tour of the old town, walking the Royal Way from the Florian Gate through Rynek Glowny (Central market square) down to Wawel Castle, and back.
Mmmm salty The Wieliczka Salt Mine, 30 min south of Krakow is one of the oldest salt mines in the world. The tour of the mines is rather kitsch but fun. The mines are impressive with large room full of sculptures and turned into chapels and churches. All sculptures were down by untrained miners, and very impressive. We enjoyed being able to sample the walls! Afterwards we treated ourselves to a medieval feast in the old town of roast pork, potatoes and sauerkraut followed by honey cake.
Auschwitz - Birkenau We awoke early on Sunday to catch a tour to Auschwitz, 1.5 hours out of Krakow. On the bus we watched video footage shot by the Russians from the liberation of the concentration camp, which was harrowing. The Auschwitz camp was originally a Polish army camp, the Naziâ€™s transformed the large army barracks into prison barracks. One of the barracks contained a starvation room, black out room and standing cells, all used to kill prisoners. There were displays of human hair and personal items. The small gas chamber and crematorium was used to execute 500 people per day. The Birkenau camp 3km away was 20 times larger than Auschwitz with the barracks being kit set stables from Berlin. The bunk beds in the stables were titled to maximise the number of people the could sleep - 15 per bunk. The train line goes straight through the front gate and turns towards the four crematoriums which could exterminate 2000 people each per day. It was a very powerful experience.
Kazimierz is the former Jewish quarter of Krakow and was itâ€™s own city when the old town was new. We visited Kazimierz after cheering ourselves up with a hot chocolate. Like the rest of Krakow, it is easy to see that this area was once grand. Now there are many derelict buildings as the Jewish owners do not want to return. We visited a Synagoge and a Jewish cemetary.
On our final morning we stormed Wawel Castle. The castle is a real melting pot of varying styles; medieval, gothic, romanesque, renaissance and baroque. We visited the Wawel Cathedral with lovely interior carvings and climbed the bell tower for beautiful views of the city. One section of the outer roof is completely golden. We also toured through the highly decorated state rooms, set around a lovely large courtyard.
We finished off our day with a visit to St Maryâ€™s Church in the main square. The church has two towers of unequal height, supposedly built by two competing brothers. The large gothic altar inside the church was beautiful.
After enough death for one day we cheered ourselves up with a concert in the St Peter and Paul church. There were 2 violins, 1 viola, 1 cello, 1 double bass and 1 trumpeter. They played Chopin (native of Krakow), Mozart and Bach. The church provided excellent acoustics and atmosphere. We finished the day with a lovely dinner in a Jazz restaurant.
Czech Rep Prague Proposing Prague Anna and I had a magical time in Prague. I proposed to Anna on the first day, and we spent the rest of the weekend celebrating and staring at the little sparkly ring.
Four star luxury Anna and I normally stay in fairly cheap accommodation, but we got a great deal on a lovely four star hotel in an old Prague palace. When we first arrived in Prague it was raining, so we took shelter in our hotel to rest. It was here that I proposed. After getting engaged, the weather cleared for the rest of the weekend.
Christmas markets This weekend was the beginning of the Prague Christmas markets, every square in the city was full of small timber huts packed with Christmas goodies; wooden toys, gingerbread, sugared nuts, paintings, Christmas decorations, donuts, mulled wine and sausages. Anna and I spent most of the weekend just wandering round each market sampling the delights and staring at the surrounding beautiful palaces and churches. We also stumbled upon many Christmas Choirs singing Czech carols in traditional dress (they looked cold). We started at Wenceslas Square before moving onto Staroměstské náměstí (Old Town Square) where we watched the walk of the Apostles across the astronomical clock. The main square flanked by the impressive Týn Cathedral, Town Hall and St Nicholas Church, had the largest market and the tastiest food.
Castle and churches
We woke early the next day and walked along the River Vltava towards Prague Castle passing Frank Gehry’s Dancing House. We crossed the river at Charles V’s bridge, lined with morbid statues of saints to St Nicholas Church. The Church was large and airy despite the grandiose high baroque decoration.
After the castle we descended to the old Jewish quarter, but after paying homage in Krakow we could not face more synagogues and holocaust reminders. We hunted for the Prague Golem, a clay statue brought to life by a Rabbi, but to no avail.
We climbed the hill to the Prague Castle (Pražský hrad), the largest in Europe. We entered the medieval state rooms, the romanesque St George’s Basilica, the twee shops along Golden Lane and the gothic St Vitus Cathedral. The modern stained glass windows in the Cathedral were beautiful. The castle afforded stunning views back towards the old, new and Jewish towns of Prague.
Eastern Europe loves heavy hearty dishes of food. We gorged ourselves over two nights on cabbage soup, venison with juniper berries, pork goulash, smoked salmon, cured ham, roast duck and beer battered cinnamon apples.
Farewell On our final morning Anna and I did what we liked the most, and that is to eat sugary treats while wandering the Christmas markets. Prague was a wonderful city, and will always be special for us.
Follow our heroes, Anna and Sam, through 31 cracking adventures around Europe: •
Ruins and Religion in Roma
Guten tag Dresden
Pizza perfect Bay of Naples
A bonny bonny beat ‘bout Scotland
Our outing in Oxford
Top-notch Tallinn and Helsinki
Canoeing in Cambridge
Those crazy Belgians
Beer and bits in Bruges
Light fun in Brighton
Kent castles and Birmingham bling
Wir liebe Berlin und Potsdam
My goodness my Guinness
Brewed blend in Granada
Ciao from Northern Italy