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Volcanos, hotsprings, and weird beaches!

Hello peeps,

So as you know this will be our last blog post – although Sam is keen to do a summary blog – so that may happen.  We are currently sitting at Gatwick airport waiting to catch out plane home!

After Athens we caught the ferry to Santorini for a few days of relaxing! The ferry was about 7 hours, although because it started early morning we got a few hours sleep, in chairs so not the best!  Also there are lots of photos in this blog! Sorry!!!

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When we first arrived we were greeted by Rena our lovely host who was very welcoming! We had in fact been upgraded to a room with a balcony as well as a hot tub – bonus!

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After settling in we went to see one of our first sunsets there in Oia where we are staying, which has the best sunsets in Santorini – there will be plenty of sunset photos!

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After this we headed for a delicious dinner at one of the only two places open in the town, with of course plenty of wine!

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The next morning after enjoying our breakfast on our balcony, we headed into Thira the main town on the island via the few buses that went.

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We wandered around for a bit and had yet more Gyros for lunch.  We also had our first sighting of the island donkeys at work!

IMG_5540Sam then suggested that we headed back to Oia on foot – so we set off on a 3 hour trek!

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After reaching our accommodation and after a quick break, we again headed to see another sunset and caught up with Gabriella who had also come to Santorini!

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The next day we again meet up with Gabriella and headed to Volcano Island, still an active volcano which we walked around for about 1.5 hours.

This is the cat that saw us off at the port and we loved his little moustache and beard!

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We then jumped back on the boat and headed around to the hot springs.  Apparently tourists don’t swim here much in winter but that didn’t stop us!

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That’s us – the first into the water which wasn’t too bad!

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We then headed back to the main island where I opted to catch a donkey back up the hill – Sam chose to walk – bad decision!!! I happened to have the smallest and fastest donkey – he overtook all the others after starting at the back!

IMG_5738 IMG_5739We then headed back to Oia again and yet another sunset – the best from here to far!

IMG_5798 IMG_5781 IMG_5806 IMG_5807 IMG_5858 IMG_5809On our way home we also got an awesome view of the last night of the full moon!

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The next day we decided to brave car driving – which Sam did fantastically – considering he had to drive on the right hand side of the road and in a right hand sided car.

We first checked out a local winery called Cave Wines and undertook some tasting!

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We spent the day checking out the beaches – if you can call them beaches as they were mostly rocks!!!

1st beach – Kamari was black sand

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2nd beach was Red Beach – was a little scary due to the no entry falling rocks – which we ignored – we learnt later that at least 1 tourist a year dies here – oops! The beach was red and black stones.

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3rd beach was white beach – which was just white rocks

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We also saw some donkeys hard at work on the farm!

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We then headed to the other end of the island for our last sunset near the lighthouse.  We were the only ones here and it was perfect – so I think we enjoyed this better than the ones at Oia that had about 30 people each night!

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We then headed to a restaurant for dinner – alas I got served off prawns, however the beers were locally brewed and delicious!

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The next day we headed into Thira to do a little shopping before we caught our plane back to London!

Yesterday we spent the day at the museum which was pretty cool, although very big and tiring – I haven’t uploaded any photos from here!

We then caught up with Ben for a few (a lot) of beers – of which Sam is still suffering!

Today we checked out Portabello Road and then Oxford Street before heading to the airport!

Looking forward to being home soon!

Love Jods

xxx

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An ancient civilisation, city dogs, Freddos and Gyros!

Hey peeps,

So this will be the second last blog, so I hope you won’t be too sad that out little tales will end, and be much happier to have us back in Oz!  So whilst I’m writing this we have actually moved on to the Greek Islands, but we enjoyed out 3 days in Athens that it deserved it’s own post.

We arrived at Athens in the late afternoon from Barcelona and headed straight to our hotel, where we noticed that we were staying on cat alley – we had not seen so many cats on our entire trip! After a short rest we headed out for some dinner and an early night.

The following day we headed out on a walking tour with the lovely George who was very Greek and ladies – very swave wearing hipster jeans, a leather jacket, ray ban sunnies and constantly stroking back his long hair.  We first of all walked past the Temple of Zeus which now consists of only the columns you see as well as Hadrian’s gate.

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We then continued on to parliament house that was also home to the unknown soldier.  Here we got to observe the Greecian soldiers performing –  complete with taps on their shoes!  Here we also noticed a few police around and George advised us that this was due to 2 recent terrorists escaping from jail.  They had both been released on parole and had just not returned.  Apparently after the first one disappeared America was trying to find out how Greece’s number one prisoner escaped and the government response was “he wanted to go out so we let him” – apparently this didn’t deter them from then allowing the second prisoner to go out who then also disappeared as well.

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After walking down the main shopping strip, through the old town and into Monstraki square which is a very tourist square in Athens.  Here we stopped for a short break and we enjoyed our first Cappucino Freddo – which is delicious and basically an iced coffee but somehow better!

We then headed off again and out the front of Hadrian’s library we came across this fellow.  George explained that in Athens they have city dogs that literally just walk the streets.  They are feed, vaccinated and have a collar.  They are super friendly and just hang out all day sleeping – or in this case following us around for most of the day.

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After this we continued on up towards the Pathenon.  On the way George explained to us the current financial and political issues in Greece (mostly due to corrupt politicians) and how that Athens (Athena) has been the main city for creating civilisation.  He believes that Athens is the expert in creating democracy and that they need to look to the past to try and address their current issues – i.e. previously they banned the corrupt politicians from the city for 10 years, they decided to have a lottery system for government jobs to stop politicians promising people jobs for kick backs, and then they provided free education to all to ensure that if those in the lottery were chosen for the jobs that they had suitable qualifications and an education.

On out way up past the Parthenon we were able to get this amazing view – one of the first of many in Athens.  It isn’t until you see this that you can realise how big and beautiful the city really is.

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We then finished our tour at the bottom of the Parthenon and decided that a few of us would head to lunch where we had the most delicious Gyros – like soulvalakis but smaller and with chips in them – I may or may not have become a little addicted to these!

After lunch we headed up to the Parthenon with Marika (Canadian) and Gabriella (Brazillian) girls that we had meet on the walking tour.  We first checked out the theatre at the bottom which was the first ever built.

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After Marika having a little trouble getting in with her ticket we then continued on up to the top where again we got some amazing views! Again Marika got yelled at for trying to take a photo of the Greek flag – we couldn’t work out exactly why but apparently you can’t do that at an archaeological site.

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After this we decided to head over to the Temple of Zeus, although given it was now past 3pm – it was shut – they like to finish work early here! Instead we headed back to Monstraki for an afternoon beer or two before we headed up to Filopappou to attempt to see the sunset – alas it was a little cloudy but we got some cool photos anyways!

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We then headed back to our hotel for a rest and then we went out to meet Marika, Gabriella and a few others for dinner and several drinks – including a lot of Ouzo for Sam!

The next morning we headed out to check out the Ancient Agora, which I thought was pretty amazing! Unlike any other place, Athens has gardens full of ruins that are easily accessible to the public and cost little – we paid about $18 to access all the archaeological sites in Athens!!! Here they also had their most well preserved Parthenon and I loved how it was just nestled between the trees in the garden.

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IMG_5312We even got to see some spring blossoms here!

IMG_5328After yet another quick Gyros – still amazingly delicious – we headed up to Lykavittos for the best view of Athens – and it was!

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IMG_5353 IMG_5349We even enjoyed a Freddo with a few friends!

IMG_5356Next we decided to head to Olympic Stadium – the first even stadium to be used for the Olympic games and made entirely of Marble!

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This is us sitting in the chairs made specifically for the King and Queens back in the day!

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All of the Olympic torches – although Melbourne’s was missing 😦

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After another busy day we headed back to our hotel and out for an early dinner, ready for out trip to Santorini – which will also be the last blog!

Home soon!

Love Jods

xxx

 

 

 

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Sangria, Real-Life Instagram Filters and Paella

Hola,

This post is coming from, or at least starting, at Barcelona airport. We’re flying out on what looks like a really nice day to Greece, where it is apparently a nicer day. Seems like we have definitely saved the sun until the end.

Barcelona was a fun city – it was a bit different to a lot of the places we’ve gone. A lot less ampitheatres, walls, and towers, and a lot more beaches, hanging out and sangria.

Our first day we were off the train we checked in and went straight to a walking tour; we were a little early so stopped for some lunch – Tapas. We asked for ‘about 15 Euro worth’; it was really good, but the bill came later… 32 Euro. A little odd, maybe just a tourist trap as it was in a city square. Still – what we had was probably worth that, with a few beers, too.

The walking tour was a bit different to others – the guide was a little… different. He was a half Spanish, half American (New Yorker) which showed a little when some kids were playing with a laser pointer and waving it toward us; his response was <censored for sensitive eyes; highlight over to see it> holy fucking shit, I fucking hate that fucking shit! FUCK! </end censored>, followed by sheepishly turning back to the group and apologizing. Entertainment.

The tour was good, though, and he knew what he was talking about, and was plenty interesting while doing so.

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Apparently Barcelona have some kind of obsession with pooing – it’s tradition, and in fact bad luck, if there is a nativity scene /without/ a little red-hatted Catalan squatting in the corner.  I thought we had a picture of these, but I can’t find it – there are shops filled with celebrities, from Barack Obama, to Barcelona FC players and Michael Jackson, squatting.

After the tour we had a few beers with the guide and a few of the other people on the tour, then wondered up and had some slightly average tapas on the way back to the hotel.

The next day we wondered around the city by ourselves for a while – ended up at the Marina, then to the beach, which was a real, sandy beach, rather than the rock ones we’ve seen elsewhere. A few more people here swimming – it seemed a very urban beach, with skateboarders, roller bladers and an outdoor gym with a bunch of guys working out.

Wandering back through the city, we saw Gaudi’s Basilica de la Sagrada Familia through a few other buildings, so decided to go up that way, as we’d planned to visit it, just unsure when. As we came up to it, we saw one of the girls we’d had some drinks with the night before, one from Melbourne, which was a bit random.  She mentioned the photos she’d seen inside, and that it looked like they’d been put through Instagram filters, but hadn’t – it really did.  The cathedral is actually still being built, following plans mapped out over 100 years ago, but what’s there is a really quite unique. Gaudi is touted as one of the best architects of the modern era and he definitely had a style different to almost every other church and cathedral we’d seen – it’s almost organic in the way it joins, with out too many straight lines or sharp angles. Inside, the light was tremendous, even though, again, it’s not finished. The stain glass was probably the best use we’d seen.

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That evening we had our first Paella at a 30’s almost Parisian style restaurant. Really good.

Our next day was a trip out to Monserratt, which was about an hour on the train, where there is a monastery and small village up on top of a rocky mountain. It was a slightly rainy day, but still a warmish temperature, so a nice day out. After a long distance cable car trip, and a fair amount of uphill walking, we ended up with some pretty great views of Barcelona, and the surrounding Catalan mountains.

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As we were getting off the train near it, we decided to visit the magic fountain that night. Other than Rome, most of the fountains we’ve seen have been off (like Versaille), but this one was going, and rather huge. With lights, a soundtrack, and random street vendors who had bought a six pack then tried to onsell it.

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Sunday we decided to relax a bit – no alarm set, got up late, and wandered to the Picasso Museum. Worth the visit, though 2 of the more famous areas were shut – it was a chronological exhibition, going through stages of his life. Just as he hit the abstract stages he was most famous for, we hit the closed section of the exhibition. Oh well.

That day it pelted down rain – we seem to bring good weather, followed by rain and floods…

Our last day we wandered around the city a bunch more – visited the Palace of Catalan Music, built by the people about 100 years ago. While a lot more ‘standard’ than Gaudi’s designs, it’s a beautiful building with great use of light.

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I managed to get my shoes fixed in small shop down an alley – the sole had began detaching and just needed to be glued back on. We found a little shoe-man by accident, but his English didn’t exist, and our limitted Hola (Hello); Gracias (Thankyou); Yes (Si) and Dos la cerveza por favor (2 beers please) didn’t do a lot in asking about glue, how long, etc. Turns out about 20 seconds and a tip, so hooray.

Some more wandering, a couple of coffees, and some horrible churros, followed by going back to the hotel for some relaxing some more. Seems the thing to do here – chill.

That night we had booked in to do a Spanish cooking class, which was really fun. Greeted with a bottle of wine each, we found out it was just us; normally there are up to 12 people in the classes. We began cooking our Pumpkin & Pear Soup, Spanish Omelette, Valencienne Paella and Catalan Cream dessert. All really yummy; I’ve been told I must quote the chef in saying that “the omelette was one of the best ones we’ve done here”. The Paella was yummy, if a bit salty, with chicken and rabbit – the first time I’d cooked with rabbit.
It was a little different to other classes in that it was a little bit like an interactive cooking show. He did plenty of the cooking himself, probably split 3 ways. If there were 12, I imagine it would have been quite spectatorial.

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I’m glad we kept the sun until last – after almost 3 months travelling, I’m not sure how well I could handle a dark, drab, wet Britain right now! There’s some mixed feelings about it all ending. It’s been amazing, and we’ve enjoyed pretty much everywhere we’ve gone, and “seen the world”, but there are some home comforts, people and canines we’re definitely missing.

As mentioned earlier, I’m finishing this one up on the plane. There’s a lot of turbulence right now; more than any other trip, though it’s a really clear, warm day. if we make it, and the ‘net is good, I’ll have this posted soon hopefully!

Adios, amigos. (yes, they actually say that!)

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A beachside break, Roman ruins, bullfighting and casinos…. in France

After navigating late night border trains we arrived at about 10:30 at night in Nice and found our little french apartment for the next 2 nights.  The next day we headed out to find some breakfast on the beach.  Nice felt a lot like the gold coast but rocky beaches instead of sand.

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After breakfast we decided to head up to the Ancien Chateau which was well worth the walk to get such magnificent views of Nice.

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This is the Nice airport… very creative I’d say!

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And the kids do sailing lessons as part of school…. maybe mine will embrace this!

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After this we headed back into the old town and wandered through the Market of Cours Saleya which was an antiques market when we went there, which explains why we were confused when we found it as our host had told us it would be a flower market – after having just researched it, it appears that they have different markets on different days.

We then headed to a local cafe for a coffee and then back down along the esplanade for an enjoyable walk.  We even got to witness some keen tourists head in for a dip!

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We headed out for dinner that night where we had a delicious meal of duck, pork belly with lentils and grilled vegetables.

The next day we then headed to Monte Carlo for a short visit before heading off to our next destination that afternoon.  Monte Carlo was as expected, a lot of high rise wealthy apartments, high end fashion stores and million dollar yachts.

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It was a very wet couple of hours, however we did get to check out the royal palace.

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And then attempted to visit the casino, however it didn’t open until 2pm – bah! We also confirmed that we could not afford to relocate here anytime soon!

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We then jumped on the train to head to Nimes, with only a brief stop at Marseilles (I had suggested that we not stop here….) and arrived again in the evening.  After checking into our hotel we headed out for some dinner and an early night.  The next day we headed out to see the Maison Carree which wasn’t open due to renovations.

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We then headed down to check out the Arena (Colosseum) which was amazing to see.  It was in a much better condition then the one in Rome although smaller, and still gets used for ceremonies, sporting events and bullfighting.  We also got to learn a lot about the gladiators then we had in Rome.

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After this we headed to the Jardin de la Fountain which was beautiful now, so I can only imagine what it is like in spring.

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We made our way to the top and climbed the Tour Magne – again wasn’t a fan of the heights.

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And then checked out the Temple of Diana on the way down.

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After a relaxing afternoon of coffee and reading we headed out for dinner and then home ready for out early trip to Spain the next morning – 9am is currently early! Ha!

We are now in Spain and heading to Greece soon, so will have another blog update soon!

Love Jods

xxx

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A naked man, Leather and our Summer holiday in a Winter Italy

So given that the last blog didn’t have much in it at our time in Munich and Venice (although now I’ve posted it I’m reviewing the decision!), Sam has decided that I should write some more! I think it’s because he knows that I’m a better blogger than him (shhhh). So we are currently on yet another train to Rome at about 6pm so I have another 4 hours to fill – well more likely 2 because I will probably nap as well! When we arrived in Florence we got the initial pleasure of walking past the duomo (Cathedral) which was magnificent. We arrived at our hotel and decided to head out for dinner given the time. We headed to a local pizzeria “Il Pizzario” recommended by the hotel as being the best pizza in Florence and it was delicious, Sam has voted it the best so far!

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The next day we decided to head out to check out some museums. We first went to the Academia Museum where we got so see a few paintings, sculptures and of course Michelangelo’s David – which definitely beat the Mona Lisa! Alas no pictures 😦 but we did snap some of the fake ones later in the day.

Next we decided to check out the duomo and climb the bell tower – approximately 400 steps which gave a fantastic view of Florence.
Our next stop was the Uffizi Museum with one of the fake David’s for the day.

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Here we got to see some Rembrandt’s, Da Vinci’s, Raphael’s and more of Michelangelo’s work, although we both agree that the impromptu stop at the gallery in London has still been the best so far. Again no pictures inside of here.

After we decided to take a leisurely walk up to Michelangelo’s Piazzale – again more steps!!! But the view was incredible and we both agree the best in Florence as directed by our hotel staff. That evening we again headed for pizza and pasta – although not as good at the first night.

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The next day we headed to the Florence Train station to meet up with our Tour for the day. We hopped on a bus and headed for the beautiful hills of Tuscany. Our first stop was at San Gimignano which was a very preserved medieval town, with fantastic views and a nice little leather shop where I purchased myself a little gift 🙂

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We then headed to a local winery for a typical Tuscan lunch and some wine tasting. Here Sam developed his taste for Chianti wine and hasn’t stopped drinking it since – I’m not sure how he will adjust back home!

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We then got back on the bus and headed to Siena (only one “n”) where we had a guided tour. The tour guide advised us of the uniqueness of the town, including that it is divided into 17 districts that have their own cathedrals, museums and events planned for them each month, which is only for your own district. You are also born into your district and remain there. There has been a lot of conflict between districts over the years and each year there is a horse race (Palio di Siena) which is held in the town square each year. This the tour guide advised us is not for tourist and is a medieval battle with no rules, jockeys kick and pull each other off – we saw a video in a shop and it was very intense!

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This is the square where the race is held.

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This is the shields on buildings throughout the city so that you can work out what district you are in.

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We then headed to the Cathedral which was different to any others that we had seen, mostly because in building it they used a lot of non-catholic/religious stories with their main theme being that you need to find knowledge before you can find God, therefore there was no religious decorations on the floor until half way through it.

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When then wandered around the town for a while and had a wine at a local cafe. Here they often give you free snacks while you have wine at the cafes, such as chips etc. Something that we agree should happen in Australia!

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It was then time to hope back on the bus and head to our final destination, Monteriggioni, which for the Assassin Creed fans is his uncles home. It was pretty cool to check out although when we arrived is was darkish so not many good photos to get or many shops open. Sam and I have both agreed that this has been the best tour by far and everyone should do it if they come to Florence!

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After arriving back in Florence we headed to our new hotel, same chain as the one the previous 2 nights – but we had been able to stay longer as they were booked. They had given us an apartment which was amazing for about $100 a night. I had to include some pictures here!

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The next day we decided to have a lazy day, mostly hung out in the apartment and did a little leather shopping. Sam procured a new wallet and I got a pair of Italian leather boots!

The next morning we packed up our stuff and headed to the train station. We first headed to Pisa where we dumped out luggage at the station and walked to check out the tower. We weren’t sure initially if it was going to worth the visit but we both are glad we went. Again, like David, it’s one of the things you need to see in person to appreciate!

IMG_3914 IMG_3926We also decided we would climb it – although it was a challenge swaying from side to side whilst climbing!

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This is also the standard photo pose here!

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After we then checked out the Cathedral and headed back to the station.

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We arrived at Corniglia (the middle town of Cinque Terra) at about 3:30pm and were collected from the station by out host whom had little English but we managed. Corniglia is tiny but beautiful and the view from our room was amazing!

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Even though it was off season and most of the place was closed, it was lovely to wander around and luckily we had beautiful weather that day. We decided to watch the sunset with a bottle of Chanti and then headed to dinner a bit later.

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As we were looking for dinner we were stopped by a local saying to follow him to the restaurant (again limited English) who was also being yelled at by his mother from a window – it was very Italian. Dinner was seafood pasta (Marinara for me and Clams for Sam) followed by fresh local Sea Bass and Sea Bream, which was boned before us. The meal was delicious and I would highly recommend others to go there. We didn’t get the name but it’s the yellow restaurant over looking the sea – you can’t miss it!

Today we headed to Monterosso by train, had some lunch and then did a (not so leisurely) 3 km coastal walk with many step and at times precarious path to Vernazza. This was the only trail open at this time of year and we would again recommend that others do this if you get a chance!!!

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There was even random begging cats!!!

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We then caught the train back to Corniglia to get our things and as I mentioned at the start are on our way to Rome!

I’ve definitely decided that we will be coming back to Italy in the future!

Love Jods
xxx

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Beer halls, the Alps and a sinking city

Well we are currently on the train heading towards Florence (Firenze – if you can speak Italian) on a high speed train – which means I have 2 hours to catch you all up on this weeks adventures. After Prague we spent 2 nights at Munich. Germany is the only country that we have visited twice so far and I guess it shows how much we love it. Munich was very similar to Berlin, although a lot smaller and more Beery! And as such we undertook a beer challenge on our first night there!!! There were many pints consumed and a poor Spanish girl passed out after vomitting at the hostel that we ended at! We got to meet a couple of interesting Americans – one a staunch republican and the other a democrat, who worked for the republican – needless to say they didn’t talk about politics at work. We also meet a fellow Aussie who is currently working in Montreal and was on her way home from Aus – apparently there are a lot of women in IT in Montreal fellas. On the tour, most importantly we also got to experience some beer halls and have shots of Jaegermiester.

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The next day, although a little seedy, we headed out on a walking tour of Munich, which as always was very good. During the war 87% of Munich was destroyed so a lot of it had been rebuilt, including their new old town hall that they deliberately tore down in the early 1900s so they could rebuild a more Gothic looking building. The best part of the building was their clock, which is apparently the second over rated tourist attraction in Europe, although I disagree.

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We also got to visit the devil’s church, which has his footprint inside from where he got angry as the architect he had a deal with to build the church with no windows so he could make it a church to worship him didn’t work. The architect in fact build windows but as you can see from the pictures they aren’t visible from the inside.

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In Munich the men also propose to the women by putting a massive wooden Maypole in their front yard which the women come and admire. If they say yes, then it’s all good, if not the women take a box of beer to the man’s house and leave it for him – win-win I say. They also have a massive Maypole in their town too with the tradition that if you steal it then you get free beer – it has previously been stolen by the local police as well as a large neighbouring town!

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After the walking tour we decided to check out the surfers, yes surfers in the local river!

Then we again headed to another pub for lunch and then back to our room to catch up on washing!

The next day we caught the train from Munich to Venice through the Alps which was breathtaking scenery. We arrived in Venice in the evening and managed to negotiate the ferries, streets (alleyways) and canals to our accommodation. We managed to then head out for our first Italian pizza that night which was delicious!

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The next day we wandered into St Marco’s Piazza which is very grand, occupied with many tourists and pigeons!

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It’s also important to take notice of the Piazza’s rules!

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Venice was very amazing, if not a little crooked and uneven. We spent about 2 hours just wandering the streets until we went on a tour that afternoon. I was even able to recognise a lot of buildings from Assassins Creed.

During our stroll we randomly came across a museum of Leonardo’s inventions that had been created from his Codex pages.

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As we headed back to the Piazza we observed that the wooden tressels has been put up as the tide had come in – luckily it didn’t get too flooded, although in winter a lot of Venice can become flooded!

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We then hopped onto a boat and headed out to Murano (famous for it’s glass blowing)

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Tourello (has the the oldest church in Venice)

Barano (famous for it’s lace making and brightly coloured fishing houses)

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We also managed to get a Venetian sunset on the way back!

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The next day we did another short walking tour however this one was not as good as Munich or Berlin. We then headed for a coffee, followed by visiting the Basilica (we couldn’t take photos here) and then to the Duco’s palace – we weren’t meant to take photos here but a snuck a few in!

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That afternoon we again wandered for a few hours, looking through a violin museum and visiting a few churches. Venice really is a city that you can just wander around for hours.

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Today we went on a foggy gondola ride which was very relaxing and our gondolier even sang us a few tunes. As I mentioned at the start we are now on our way to Florence and then on to Rome.

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Loving Italy so far!!!

Love Jods

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Snowy, Medieval Cities and A Bone Chandelier

Time to start another blog – I’m beginning writing this one on a train between Prague and Munich. The landscape here is very pretty, lots of tall straight pine trees, some with wisps of snow clinging to them. Lots of paths, tracks and clearings through them – if it wasn’t for the sub zero temperature it would be a great place to camp.
We are on a train for another few hours, so I may ramble a little…

Over the last few days we’ve spent time in two cities, which were quite similar in a lot of ways.
Tallinn is the capital of Estonia, and one of the few cities I knew next to nothing about, other than Jodie’s sister Casey, and Simon her partner, saying it was a friendly, cheap place to spend some time. It really surprised me, and has become one of our best stops thus far. It’s a medieval city, dating back about 1000 years, which has been occupied by Danes, Swedes, Germanic people and of course Estonians. Each have left their mark here, with some of the fortifications still standing 600 years after being built.
The centre of the town, the Old Town, is a well preserved medieval city, with cobbled streets and charming buildings surrounding a central town square with a Town Hall, still in use after 700 years.
Add to that, this is the first city we’ve spent any time in with snow, and it was a great experience. Snow has an interesting affect on cities, which we actually discussed with some Fins during a lunch. Rain seems to make cities seem drab, cold, and generally less welcoming, keeping people inside, to stay warm, but snow in many ways lightens them, gives character, doesn’t make you wet like rain. There were kids getting towed along the footpaths on toboggans, and even some guys who had set up a snow board jump in a local park. The could actually land more tricks than your average skater at home, too.

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Our first day in Tallinn, after where Jodie left off, we attempted to visit a museum in a tower of the wall, but it was unfortuneatly shut over winter. We did get to see a lot of the town on the walk there, with a small snow fight, though.
We kept wondering through the town toward another tower that was open, via a small market stall where I bought some thigh high woolen socks. Jeans aren’t the best insulator by themselves.

Before going into the tower we found a cafe for a hot chocolate – a really great little cafe off a courtyard filled with glass makers, artists and other artisan-type-trades. It was had a very 40’s/50’s feel to it – glass top marble tables, eclectic velvet and timber seating, fur pelts on the walls, some melamine sprinkled in and the music provided by one of the old radios I’ve started collecting at home. Very cool.

After climbing the tower, which gave some nice views of the old town, we wondered into the new town to find a few things (attempted boot purchases and repairs, a post office and some other bits and pieces). It was a modern feeling shopping centre, very different to the old town, but really just another shopping centre as cities go.

From there we wondered through a few pubs, for a few beers. One place had 3 full pages of beers – some may have had Anglicised names that I knew, but I recognized about 5 and had tried 3 of them. All about $2 – $3 Australian. Could have spent a lot of days there…
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Another couple of pubs lead to dinner, at a place called Granny Recommends, down a flight of stairs in an arched, almost bunker style premises. It was similarly styled to the cafe we had lunch in, with more cool radios. I’m unsure if they’re ‘themed’ or just ‘decorated’ with what was available and looked nice. Either way, love them.

Our second day started with a massage. Yay. Then some catching up on emails, posting things, and general unexcitement. We then visited the tower on the hill that was the reason for settlement here (easily defensible), and it’s accompanying tunnels beneath the bastions. They have quite a history, from their initial building during the times when semi-modern artillery made just walls obsolete, to bomb shelters during the 2nd world war, abandonment, homeless squats and occupation by (real, not Noodles and the Offspring) punks during the communist regime.

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That night was a medieval feast, and feast it was. The venue was setup really well, and if not for the other guests, and probably the general cleanliness of things, could have been from another time. The feast itself was 3 courses, about 15 small dishes, from sauerkraut, ginger turnips and spelt to roasted wild boar, whitemeat stew and elk, boar and bear (!) sausages, all with spiced dark beer. It was amazing to have that many dishes that we simply do eat at home.IMG_3155 IMG_3151

The next day we flew to Prague, via Helsinki. The flight to Helsinki was about 20 minutes in the air. It’s still odd as an Australian to fly that distance. Like flying from Sunbury to Bendigo.

Prague was like Talinns bigger, smarter, better looking, more elegant but slightly jaded older brother. It obviously has a much larger tourist footprint that Talinn, which did show with the amount of souvenir shops, and I’m sure that wore on some of the people living there.

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Again, we spent our first afternoon wondering on our own, through the twisting streets, just enjoying the city. That night we asked our hotel for a suggestion on where to go for a drink and dinner – he suggested separate places for both, further away from the city square, so a bit less touristy. Both were great – the beer hall brewed it’s own beer, and only sold that, so just wondered around with trays, marking each one you took off on your table. Dinner was good, too, another place in one of those bunkers.

They seem to have an obsession with playing 90’s and early 00’s music here – I have absolutely no problem with that, just something we noticed and haven’t found a real reason for… I haven’t heard Alanis, Oasis and the Spice Girls this much in ages.

Our second day we decided to take another walking tour – more great city, but this time with some description! The tour started at the top, in the palace complex. We didn’t go inside, but it felt a much more… official? palace than others we’d been to. It’s still used by the president (Czech republic no longer has a monarchy) for official meetings, etc.
Down, through the city, over the Charles Bridge, through the old city and to lunch, then more around the old city and into the Jewish quarter.
It was a good tour, with lots to see, but to be honest we think the walk around Berlin was a lot more interesting, if maybe less elegant, but we figure there was also a lot of subject matter to cover in such a political city as Berlin.

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One thing we found out was quite interesting – possibly as a knock on from a large rift in the Catholic Church in Prague about 400 years ago, a large percentage of the country is Athiest, especially Prague where it’s estimated to be about 80-90% of people. As a result a lot of the churches and synagogues around the city are used for concerts and performances, with only a handful still regularly used for services.

Some wisdom from the John Lennon wall…
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Yesterday we went out to Kutna Hora, an old silver mining town about an hour away that rivaled Prague due to the wealth bought by the silver before the Spanish conquests of the Americas flooded the market, and at one stage was actually the same population as London.

The first thing we visited there was one of the main reasons people go out that way now – the Sedlec Ossuary, otherwise known as the Bone Church. A chapel where the skeletons of 40,000 people, most killed during the plague in the 1300’s, were stored after a consecrated cemetery was filled, then excavated to build the church. In 1870, František Rint, a woodcarver, was asked to do something as a memorial – the result was a chandelier created, with at least one of every bone in the human body, along with 4 pyramids and a coat of arms. Creepy, but not in a … scary way. Maybe the age, or … something, made it not seem like were in a room with more than 40,000 skeletons. Definitely worth the trip out there just for that.

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The rest of Kutna Hora was worth visiting too. It was a mining town and a lot of the architecture and sculpture paid homage to that. Similarly, it sounds like large parts of the architecture are less stable than they could be, due to the mines underneath the ground. The other thing we saw there – the cathedral of St Barbara 🙂

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So, I’m going to end this blog here. Our train just stopped and… appeared to turn around. I think it was just one of those stations with 1 way in,and the same way out, but yeah. Might go check that one.

Until next blog, which will probably be from Italy!

PS – for the record, we were on the right train… we made it to Munich, and I’m actually posting this /after/ Munich 😉

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Towers, Culture and Beers in the East.

Time for another over due blog – we’ve actually done lots of things since the last one, so not sure why we haven’t blogged.  Could be the cheap beer here in Berlin.  In fact, yes, that’s the brunt of the blame.  Why blog when yummy German beer is available for about $4 Australian a pint?

In fact I have 4 in me now…

Anyway, reaching back through the last week – Paris!

When Jodie last blogged we were had just gone to Versaille on boxing day.  The day after we went to the Louvre for the day.  It was massive.  To be honest it wasn’t exactly what I expected, either.  I expected mostly paintings, but it was actually a lot closer to a ‘museum’ than a ‘gallery’.  There were a whole lot of sculptures, and a lot of antiquities – fragments, artifacts and history, largely European, but spreading into the middle east and some of Asia.

If you were to pick any room at the Louvre, even a room in the back corner of the basement, it would be the basis for so many other museums in the world – it is FULL of collections, both private and public, all brought together here in the last few hundred years.  From Egyptian artifacts over 4000 years old, to a Lady Gaga exhibit (we (Sam) avoided that one).

We got evacuated around lunchtime, which was good fun, especially given all of the announcements saying “please leave the building” were in French, and the staff were pretty ‘meh’ about the whole thing.  We left, and came back and hour later… apparently there was a possible fire.  I’m picking a kid flicking a button he shouldn’t have.

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Trying to get reception with all this stonework about is hard…

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And Sandy – hopefully this will make up for the last blog?

IMG_2440After the Louvre, we met Gio for dinner.  Still good fun, still very French, and now has grand ideas of a republic where he is the very particular minister for immigration.  Good to hang out for a while!

IMG_2482To follow up our day of culture, we went to Disneyland!

This was almost exactly as we expected – a giant Disney theme park.  Very fun, though we both agreed it would be more fun to go as a kid, or with a kid.  Things are always more fun with someone who’s right into things.  We somewhat expected dress up Mickey, Mini and Donald’s walking around waving their arms all day – nope, that’s a ride you line up for photos with them.  Fun rides, and I managed to get Jodie onto two roller coasters!

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The next day we thought we’d better climb this old thing.

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Turns out thousands of our best friends wanted to meet us there… A few hours later we got up there.  Jodie managed to climb the steps, which were semi-see through metal things up to the second level – I’ll get her bungee jumping soon.

The lift up to the very top was interesting – it just seemed to keeeeeep going.  We’d get through a darker section, and you’d think “oh, we’re here”, then keep going another 10 seconds.  It’s higher up there than it looks!

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A not-so-busy-on-Sunday street.  Parlez vous Francais?

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No proposals up there – been there, done that :D.

After the Eiffel tower we had a late lunch/early dinner with my Aunt, Uncle and cousin, Sue, Rob and Sienna.  It was good to catch up, they had arrived that morning, so hit a wall somewhere through the afternoon, what with it being somewhere around 4AM at home.  It was our our last planned contact with people we knew until we get home – 6 weeks of just the two of us to go! 😛

Our next stop was Berlin for New Years, via an overnight train.  Overnight trains are an interesting one, especially with suitcases.  I think we offended someone by putting our cases under the bed… they didn’t talk a lot past hello… as always, I didn’t have a lot of trouble sleeping, even if I was in boots and the bed meant I couldn’t actually straighten my hips, but Jodie had a bit more trouble.  I found the rocking almost soothing to sleep with.

Berlin seems a cool city.  Our first day we dropped off our bags and wondered around the city a bit, beelining toward the Brandenberg Gate, where the New Years party was to be held the next night.  We wondered through the and came to Tiergarten, a large garden/forest type thing to the west of the city and came across the Victory Column which we climbed for a look around.

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Afterward we found a German pub and had some Weiner Schnitzel and beers.  That was definitely a win.

On the way back to the hotel we decided to get some German beer for our hotel – this stuff is cheap!  This is about $20 worth… we compared some prices and it didn’t look like we bought the gutter beer, either…

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New Years Eve we went on a guided walking tour of the city which was really good – one of the best value things we’ve done for about $18 AUD.  It went around a whole bunch of the things to see in Berlin, with talks about the history, and how what we were looking at fit into the history.

Obviously a lot of the history around the city falls around World War 2 and the Cold War, so things like the Reichstad (still a centre of German government), the Berlin Wall, the centres for the SS and 3rd Reich command featured heavily.

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One site that did stand out in an entirely non descript way was the bunker where Hitler retreated, and eventually died at the end of the war.  It was a dodgy, unsealed carpark behind some grey, boring communist flats.  There was a single sign there describing the site in very simple terms, erected by the council as the locals were tired of being asked about it.  Somewhat fitting, we thought.

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New Years was a good night – fireworks are legal here, and boy do they make the best of that.  We headed down to Brandenberg Gate area, where a Christmas Market like setup was set up.  All the way down there were a few bangs and cherry bombs about, as we got closer some larger works went up.  By the time midnight came around, there was just a constant explosion going on around us – we tried to film some of it, but I think I may have put my finger over the microphone for the second half (or possibly this computer isn’t playing it well…).  Also, not a cameraman, boom operator or fledgling director.  None of these are the ‘official’ fireworks, either.

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Anyway, we both enjoyed the night, and came home to our hotel and watched some more fireworks from our hotel window.

New Years day was… spent booking our next few weeks – flights, beds, etc, and generally pretty quiet.  We ventured our for breakfast (champagne, ugh) and dinner, and that’s about it.

Having enjoyed the first general walk, we went on another walking tour with the same company, this time out to the Sachenhausen concentration camp.  Our guide was an Irishman, Barry, who had a good knowledge of German history, recent and further back.  A few things he said did stick, including a couple of his closing statements – “I know enjoy is probably not the right word, but I hope you all got something out of today” – this was definitely the case.  Enjoy… no, but I do enjoy learning, and it was an… interesting visit.

Sachenhausen was not one of the ‘big’ concentration camps, or one of the ‘extermination’ camps, like Auschwitz, but around 10% of the 200,000 people sent here didn’t come out.  Rather, it was more of a central hub for the camps where quite a few horrible things were tried for the first time, and it provided labour and supplies (from counterfeit money to shoe repairs) for the centre of Nazi dominance in Berlin.

Similar to the other ones, though, the people sent there were sent there for less than justifiable reasons – race, religion, sexual preference and political disagreement or alliance.  The stories and conditions were, without bandying words, horrific.   The psychological and physical abuse, and even treatment after death were beyond anything I would ever want to see happen again, even more so than I had previously believed.

I’ll skip ahead here, rather than coming back to the subject.  We ended up visitting another exhibition today – ‘The Topography of Terror’, which is built on the site where the old SS headquarters was.

Another really good visit, if not ‘enjoyable’ per se, this exhibition had a lot of photos, with plenty of information to match, which were somehow a bit more ‘real’ than visiting the camp, and honestly quite distressing in a lot of ways.  The crossover from photos of soldiers holding guns to civilians, to ‘good old boys’ drinking scotch in a bar, to proud soldiers with their starved, desperate captives, then back to well dressed gentlemen posing for a photo on a bridge with their girlfriends.  So many of the photos just looked like ones you’d see on mantelpieces of peoples grandparents, great uncles and relatives from during the war, interlocked with these horrible images of cruelty.

Jodie and I have had quite a few conversations about just who was recruited here – Jodie is of the belief that there was a very definite decision on the type of person recruited.  While I agree there was a definite archetype, I’m not so certain it was exclusive.  It was a different time, with a lot of factors in play.  Again, something I, along with many others, hope to never happen again.

Today we started on a somewhat lighter note, and visited some museums – Berlin, being a European centre for some time has some great artifacts from the past.  The museums included Roman, Greek and a lot of Egyptian items, including the bust of Nefititi, a 3000 year old sculpture of the Egyptian queen which was found in almost perfect condition.

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From there we wondered back to Checkpoint Charlie – the crossover point over where the wall stood – where there was a panoramic mural setup that we’d planned to go back to.  It was a 2 story high stitched together photo of life next to the wall.

For people in the West, living in Berlin, the wall was just a part of life – some tourists came to see it, some people painted on it, some people had family on the other side. At the end of the day, though, it was a wall in the city you wouldn’t cross.  The panorma showed this well – looking one direction you could have been looking at Fitzroy in the 80’s, then, the wall, and over it the dead zone, then the typical, grey communist apartments.  Really well done, we thought.

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From there we went onto the other exhibition mentioned earlier, then dinner.  More beer, more meat, more German hospitality!

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On the way back we found an Australian theme pub – I had to have a Fosters, while Jodie had a Bundy.  Hum.

So, Berlin has been an interesting visit – I’d say we have enjoyed it, despite the earlier quote.  Learning is fun!

Our next blog will probably be either from Helsinki, or way up North in Ivalo.  Until then… (I haven’t learnt the German word for ‘bye’ yet)… Au Revoir!

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Joyeux Noel!

Hello all,

We hope you have all had a Merry Christmas and thought we should give you another update given how busy Paris is – it may need 3 blogs by itself!!! So as Sam left off from Brussels we caught the train out to Gent for the day, which was a town that neither of us expected. It was very quiet and not at all the small European town we were expecting – a lot more morbid in fact. We firstly checked out the Gravesteen Castle, which is where the town mostly undertook tortures, executions and the imprisoning of the mentally ill and disabled back in the day.

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We then headed to Dr Joseph Guislain’s Asylum museum, which appears to still be a working mental hospital, which we discovered as we went to the local museum.  We both enjoyed the war and trauma exhibit that they had, which included art from people with various trauma and mental illness diagnosis as well as war photography including until recently.  To top off our departure we had the pleasure of hanging out with a chromer at the local tram stop who told me I “had nice shoes!”.  Needless to say we moved away a bit. So to some it up, a day in Gent was a bit like being back at work….

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The following day we went to Brugge which we both loved and was definitely what we were expecting, although we did get soaked in the rain.  We mostly walked around the town which was beautiful and had lunch at a local brewery where we meet some fellow Aussies.  Brugge also makes delicious chocolate and Ribs – it was all you could eat Ribs and I’m sure Sam wanted to move in next door! And yes in the photo below it is a man playing a violin/trumpet instrument – which Google informs me is a Stroh Violin…

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The next day we jumped on a bus for a leisurely 5 hours bus ride to Paris with a quick stop in Lille, luckily we had music, books and wi-fi to keep us entertained.  After our arrival we headed straight to our accommodation in Rue Du Fromborg which is in the old jewish quarter and next to a few other interesting categorised quarters, such as the “gay” quarter.  We dumped our luggage and headed out into the main part of Paris, which is about a 15 minute walk where we found the Notre Dame and given the line moved well went in for a look.

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We then wandered all the way along the Seine until we eventually found the Eiffel Tower and got to see it glitter – Renee, I’ve added a photo just for you.

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After this we headed to Renee and Paul’s favourite restaurant for dinner which was delicious! We can see why you ate here so many times!!!

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The next day we again headed into the city for a look around and we discovered the famous bridge where lovers buy padlocks and write their names on it…. given it’s our honeymoon and there happened to be a someone selling them conveniently by we thought why not…

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We then headed towards the Arch de Triomphe via the outside of the Louvre…

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And yes Simon Smith the Champs de Elysees is a busy street…

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As well as we discovered that some Vans are not meant to go under the Arch….

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We had hoped to climb the Arch and the Eiffel tower today however due to the wind and weather (Thanks UK!) it’s been delayed until the end of the week.

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We then headed home via Galerie Lafayetter where they had the most amazing window displays with mechanical string puppets!

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Including a Cat dancing with a wine glass!!!  We finished the night with Turkish near our apartment which was delicious!!!

Christmas day!!! Was very low key until the evening, we spent most of it at our apartment enjoying ham and cheese baguettes and opening our presents for each other! Below is our Christmas sign – we weren’t able to find a tree, however I think the wine helped with that.  We also took the opportunity to relax and skype home 🙂  We also doned our awesome Christmas jumpers!!!

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That evening we went to the Moulin Rouge which was AMAZING!!!! It was definitely the highlight of Paris so far – even if there were lots of boobs – sorry no photos of those boys!!!

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Today we went to Versailles where we visited Louis XIV palace that he built to be the grandest in Paris – it was massive! We spent about 3 hours just walking around the gardens – unfortunately there weren’t many flowers due to the time of year, but I would definitely love to come here again in spring!!

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We finished the day with dinner at a little french restaurant where we Frogs legs (which were pretty good) and Ratatouille – which I definitely need to learn how to make!

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Tomorrow we are off to the Louvre and then Disneyland on Saturday!!!

Joyeux Noel et Bonne Annee

Love Jods

xxx

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Rainbows, Leprechauns and a Loch Ness Monster….

As I’m writing this we have just passed Loch Ness again on our way Fort William after a day of Nessie hunting, no sightings alas but I am convinced that she is just hibernating. Anyways I guess I had better get you all up to speed from where we left off at Blarney Castle in Ireland.

That evening we spent the nigt in Killarny which is alot like Torquay but with less beach and much colder. We enjoyed dinner at a local pub and then had a follow up drink at a bar covered in dollar bills from mostly Americans with messages on them… We didn’t contribute as the Aussie dollar is rising! The next day I drove us around the Ring of Kerry, which was beautiful and at times challenging to my awesome driving skills, on one occasion I had to reverse about 150 metres down the edge of a cliff so another car could pass, turns out he would have only had to reverse 5 metres to let me pass. Here is the picture…

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We also stopped to see the cliffs of Kerry, which is where we first got rained on, needless to stay our stop was short. We then continued around the ring ending up driving back through the lakes of Killarney at dusk and into the night. I was glad when we made it back, but wished we could have seen the lakes during the day.

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We then headed to Limerick with plans of dinner and locating accommodation, however after about 10 minutes in the city centre we decided to head straight to Ennis to find accommodation and food – it didn’t seem like a friendly place. After spending a lovely evening in Ennis, we had our first encounter with an overly helpful Irish man running our accommodation, so complete with his hand drawn map and stopping of the traffic for us we headed to the Cliffs of Moher. On the way we decided to check out Alliwee caves, which were old bear caves, complete with old bear burrows and bones.

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We then made our way to the Cliffs of Moher, which gave spectacular views as well as again challenging my issue with heights.

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That evening we decided to stay at a hotel in Portmarnock as it was close to Dublin Airport, after having some issues finding the place we found it was very luxurious for the price we paid and as it turned out would lead us to experience our second encounter with Irish generosity for the day. We headed down to the bar for an evening drink where we meet this wonderful lady Mary, a local who started chatting to us. It turns out that Mary is a chemist, previously being an executive associatiate for companies buying nucleur power plants. Her and her husband are also members of Mensa and she is the vice president of the irish country womens association. Mary had been telling us about her day and then insisted on buying us drinks and a cheese platter as celebration for our honeymoon. She even had the staff go into the closed kitchen to dig up the cheese for us! After finishing drinks with Mary at 1am, we were able to get about 5 hours sleep before heading to the airport the next morning. We arrived in Edinburgh and after a minor, whoops we forgot to book, with the hotel arranged our room for the night. We then headed out for some lunch and a wander around the town, from where we found Edinburgh Castle. That evening we part took in a ghost tour which was very interesting and I’m not convinced that I did or didn’t see anything.

Here are some Edinburgh shots at night! Again more Christmas markets!!!

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The following day we then headed to Edinburgh Castle for an inside look, however this then lead to a second drama for the day losing each other for about an hour, after I had mis­placed my passport that morning. Edinburgh castle was interesting and the best part was that we got to see the firing of the one o’clock gun.

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We also discovered this awesome lolly shop and a bagpipe playing santa during our travels as well…

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We then headed on a scotch whiskey tour where we got to learn about the making of whisky as well as a tasting. We also got to see the largest scotch collection in the world. After a few glasses, I’m beginning to have more tolerance for it. We were also kindly shouted a free whisky again for our honeymoon.

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We then headed back to our hotel to grab our stuff and headed for the train to Inverness. Today as I mentioned earlier we have been Nessie hunting and visited Urqhuart Castle. I would definitely recommend to anyone coming to Inverness and checking out Loch Ness, even if you dont get to see her. We are now heading to Fort William and I’m looking forward to the train trip to Mallaig and back tomorrow.

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Above is the picture of our accommodation for tonight, thanks to Kaye and Pascoe!

Love Jods

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