Italy

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There are some places that you’ve dreamed of visiting for so long, that you feel sure the entire universe must come to a complete standstill when you get there, simply to acknowledge that you’ve finally arrived. Italy was that place for me. And while, disappointingly, the earth didn’t quite stop spinning on its axis when our ferry arrived into Port Bari, I certainly felt ready to explode with excitement when I first set foot on Italian soil.
Stopping in Bari only long enough to find our way to the bus station, we were soon on the road heading across the country bound for Naples. With a reputation for being a bit of a dangerous city, the allure of real Napoli pizza was too strong for us to miss out on a stop there. Our first night was spent loosening the belt buckles as we indulged in traditional Neapolitan margherita and marinara pizza (the only things on the menu) at Da Michele. With a rich pizza making history reaching back to the 1870’s, the pizzeria’s become ever more popular thanks to Julia Robert’s character in Eat, Pray, Love dining there. And it was mouth wateringly delicious, pizza like nothing I had ever eaten before.
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The rest of our time in Naples was filled strolling the expanse of the city, which felt like it was going a million miles an hour around us. Checking out the numerous Churches and Basilicas tucked into every spare space, we managed to crash one actual wedding, plus the photo shoots of about four others. Chatting to locals, we learnt how the cornos (something that looks a lot like red chile pepper) lining street after street is a local trinket warding off the Evil Eye and bringing good luck.
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Most pleasingly, our Napoli food coma experience also continued nicely, eating more pizza of course, as well as stumbling into the most divine pasta shop, where the owner made us the most delicious fresh tomato, mozzarella and oregano sandwich, without a doubt one of the best things I have ever eaten.
For me Naples was definitely a travel highlight I wasn’t expecting. Gritty, seedy, and dirty, it was a hot mess of amazingness. The run down, dodgy looking exterior of buildings simply emphasised the incredible  beauty to be found inside. And I really truly felt like we were getting a real taste of Italy, with every experience, not just the pizza in Naples, about as authentic as you could hope for.
From Naples it was onwards by train to Roma, and all the mind blowing, mesmorising, heart stopping, breath taking sights on offer. I realise I’m really getting my gush on here. But Roma was full of so many moments of magic, the sight of the Colosseum approaching in the distance, the outline of Vatican city on the horizon, the historical ruins of Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum, structures like the Pantheon, or the dream like feeling of the Santa Maria Delgi Angeli Michelangelo’s theatre of light – it felt as if every step took us towards another wow moment. So many times in Rome I would find myself caught in a moment, lost completely and totally surrendered to the beauty of the world around me, something that really is such a magnificent feeling to experience.
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If it’s possible to choose one moment though that truly floored me more so than the rest, it would probably be coming through the Piazza Della Madonna and finding yourself standing before Rome’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, without a doubt one of the most overwhelming, breath taking buildings I have ever had the pleasure of seeing.
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The next day we filled with a visit to the Vatican and St Peter’s square, taking in the Castle Sant’ Angelo and Piazza de Tribunali along the way. Entering the Musei Vaticani you’re immediately overcome by the richness of the artistic work on offer, lost in a world of tapestries, paintings and sculptures, at times it almost feels like you’re brain cannot take in any more, and your mind might quite possibly burst from the overload. While seeing Michelangelo’s famous roof of the Sistine Chapel with my own eyes was pretty amazing, it was also pretty ridiculous. Hundreds of people crammed shoulder to shoulder into what is pretty much a tiny room, failing to ‘secretly’ take photos, heads raised to the ceiling, all with the not so melodious voices of Italian security guards telling people to stop taking the ‘secret’ photos and to be quiet in both English and Italian, gave the whole thing a tinge of hilarity.
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Possibly one of the biggest travel disappointments I’ve experienced so far was failing to see inside St Peter’s Basilica. While it was absolutely one of the things I had most been looking forward to, it closed early the day we were there due to a special meeting beginning that weekend, being held by the Pope about modernising the church.
Returning again the next day with grand ambitions to finally get inside the Basilica, and most importantly for me, see Michelangelo’s Pieta, we were blown away by the crowds in St Peter’s square. Being a Sunday I’d underestimated just how many people were going to be there, especially given the unique meeting of Cardinals and Bishops going in the Vatican at the time. Arriving at the tail end of Sunday mass and joining the Basilica queue which already stretched right around the square, we watched mass on the big screen with the thousands of others who were there. To further my disappointment, after waiting in line for a little over an hour in the searing sun we learned that sadly the Basilica was going to remain closed to the public that day as well.
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Luckily there was a condolence prize in store for us though, when the crowd was treated to a surprise address by Pope Francesco himself – and how adorable he is! While I couldn’t understand a word of what he was saying it was quite a phenomenal atmosphere to be experiencing first hand.
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Sadly St Peter’s wasn’t to be the only thing we missed, with the Trevi Fountain undergoing refurbishment it isn’t currently much of a sight.
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 And while not under refurbishment, catching a glimpse of the Spanish steps was also a little challenging, given they were almost completely hidden under the swarms of tourists who were covering them.
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The rest of our time in Rome was filled with strolling from Piazza to Piazza, stopping for a vino or two, or three along the way. The best thing about wandering the city was when you came across buildings you might already have encountered, but they emerged from a different angle. When places like the Colosseum revealed themselves from a completely different view point, it was like having the first experience all over again. I really feel like you could search and revisit this city forever and it’ll always reveal a new side of itself to you when you least expect it.
While leaving Rome was definitely a little heartbreaking, the frenzied crowds at least made parting a little easier. Although there was so much of the city I felt we’d left undiscovered (there really is only so much you can fit into three days!!), we were ready for a change in pace and to downsize a little. And with a few hours on a bus we escaped into the Tuscan countryside where we were welcomed into the delightful world of Siena, and all the goodness Tuscany has to offer.
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And what a place the medieval city of Siena is, I was immediately smitten with its charm and beauty. Heading straight to the Piaza del Campo, we indulged in aperol spritz and enjoyed watching the world around us go by as the sun started to set. The plaza itself is huge, and twice a year they hold the most insane horse race, where the horses speed around the centre that’s packed with spectators, while others squeeze into any other vantage point they can find. For the rest of the year though it’s a pretty chilled place, with cafés and bars on the outer and tourists, locals and students hanging out in the middle.
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Our first full day in Siena was spent soaking up all the, mostly religious sights, of the city, including Chisea di San Domenico, the last resting place of the head and thumb (which you can actually see on display) of Siena’s patron saint, St Catherine. Then it was off to the church of St Francis, and finally to Piazzo Duomo, consisting of museums, a baptistery, crypts, a panorama view of Siena, and of course Siena’s incredible Gothic Cathedral.
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I’ve said a lot of times throughout my travels that I never tire of seeing Cathedrals and Basilicas, and that each one continues to amaze and inspire me. But I can say without a shadow of a doubt, even in Italy, I’ll be hard pushed to find anything quite as spectacular as this. The exterior alone which looks like some kind of boiled candy is entrancing, and once inside I think I hardly picked my chin up from the floor I was that gob smacked, every inch of it was exquisitely beautiful, it was almost too much for my brain to take in all at once. Sadly,  my photography skills don’t come close to doing it justice.
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With so much beauty to take in we needed plenty of sustenance to keep us going, luckily the local specialty is roast wild bore, with sandwich specialists on every corner to fulfill your culinary needs. So very delicious. We also helped finance a local deli, full of the most incredible home made local food, from lemon chicken, to meat loaf, pesto lasagna, and all kinds of pasta. It was gastronomic heaven.
With so much more also on offer around Siena we decided to hire a car for the day to make the most of the Tuscan countryside, and it was definitely one of the best travel decisions we’ve made. The drive itself was sublime, and with so many stops along way to visit villages and take photos, getting to our final destination of Montepulciano (which should take about 54 mins) took around six hours! It was like driving through a painted landscape of poplar trees and olive groves, and what we were seeing with our very own eyes hardly seemed like it could be real at all.
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After numerous photo stops, we found our way to the Monastery Oliveto Maggiore, where Monks have been living and producing wine and other organic delights for hundreds of years. Set back from the road and tucked in amongst trees and hillsides, the serenity and peacefulness of the place was quite spellbinding. And after several wine tastings we soon learnt that monks sure know how to make their wine!
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Armed with a bottle of red it was back to the car and onwards to Buonconvento, a tiny village that our stomachs were determined that we stop at. Unlike many of the other surrounding Tuscan villages and towns this one was considerably less touristy, very few people spoke English and we were surrounded by mostly locals. It was here that we stumbled upon yet another heavenly sandwich, made fresh by an Italian mama with the most exquisite local produce.
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Rounding the drive out with a stop in Pienza, home of the famous Pecorino cheese, we finally made it to Montepulciano, home of more delicious Tuscan wines, with our cameras clicking non stop along the way. Finally returning back to Siena as the golden sunset engulfed the surrounding countryside.

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As always the time to bid Siena goodbye came too quickly, but with our Tuscan adventure continuing we made our way to the cultural delights of Florence and the world of the Medici family.

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Growing up with a mother whose love for Florence was ingrained in us from birth, for me it was wonderful to be able to experience the place that held such a special place in her heart.

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Of all the incredible art on offer in Italy, I would have to say David was one of the most phenomenal things to see. The way you come around the corner in the Accademia Gallery to get your first glimpse of the incredible statue from afar, before he draws you in close up to truly take in the sheer size of him, and the phenomenal detailing. It was amazing.

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With a visit to the Uffizi Gallery, a stroll across the Old Bridge, Churches, Monuments, and the best Gelato possibly in the entire world all on the agenda, it wasn’t hard to fill our time in Florence. And before we knew it our fleeting visit was over, with a train taking us onwards to the charm of the five villages of Cinque Terre.

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Staying in the village of Riomaggiore, the charm and quaintness of the area was an absolute delight. Almost immediately my nose led me to a tiny store from which a local woman sold fresh home made pasta and the most delicious sauce, which she would cook up while you waited so you could literally start eating it as you walked out of the shop, truly my form of heaven. Fortunately we were staying just outside of the peak summer season, which meant it wasn’t quite as busy as it usually is. However unfortunately, some recent extreme weather, coupled with ongoing rain, meant the walking tracks connecting the villages were closed, putting a stop to our hopes of getting some hiking in. Luckily most of the villages are pretty hilly so there was still plenty of opportunity to burn off some of the pizza and pasta calories.

Our first night we experienced the fast changing wrath of the elements as we watched a storm approach, hit hard, and blow through, before leaving us with the most sublimely colourful sunset.

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The sun, especially as it set, created the most exquisite light in the villages, sparking to life the various bright colours of the buildings. It really felt like a touch of magic had found its way to us as the sun set in the evening.

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With the walking tracks closed we decided to get around the other villages by boat. And if we couldn’t walk, sailing surely was the most idyllic way to see this part of the Italian Riviera.

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Taking the ferry it also gave us the opportunity to visit Portovenere, a village further along the coast which had been recommended by a lot of our friends. If the trip around the coastline wasn’t beautiful enough, the village itself was simply wonderful. With delightful restaurants and cafes lining the waterfront, the back streets and alleys were full of adorable little shops, and friendly locals selling all kinds of local produce, including the most heavenly pesto.

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After a day of sailing it was back to the station and a train bound for Venice, our final stop in Bella Italia.

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting from Venice but for some reason it wasn’t at the top of my ‘Italian destination excitement list’. Perhaps I had unconsciously lowered my expectations, just incase our so far phenomenal Italian adventure ended with a bit of a fizzer. Whatever the case, I’m glad I left the train station expecting to be underwhelmed, because it meant the feeling of seeing Venice for the first time packed an even bigger punch – I was instantly in love.

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Arriving in the late afternoon, our first taste of the amazingness of this floating city was under the glow of more of the most exquisite sun light. The way the sun’s rays bounced off of different parts of buildings as it slowly set, coupled with a sense of being lost in some kind of Labyrinth as we tried to navigate our way around the canals by foot, gave the strangest most unreal feeling.

I imagine the timing of our stay probably enhanced our visit, again missing the bulk of the summer travelers Venice felt relatively quiet and empty to us, and with the weather cooling off considerably, we didn’t have to battle the extreme heat and smells that come with the summer days.

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The next day we decided to see Venice the way that’s best, from the water, and grabbing a boat headed towards the other end of town. Watching life exist around waterways is quite a fascinating thing. The activity on the water and the hustle and bustle that goes on by boat was crazy, with all sorts of services from rubbish collectors to posties operating on the canals.

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With Mike’s birthday to celebrate, the sights of Piazza San Marco to explore,trinkets made from Ventian glass to hunt down, well played Vivaldi to listen to, Venetian carnival masks to choose between, wine and food to drink and eat, as well as increasingly beautiful sunsets to take in, before we knew it our time in Bella Italia had sadly come to an end.

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Two weeks of exploring suddenly felt like they were over in a heart beat, and all I wanted more than anything was to be able to go back and do it all again. Italy had well and truly stolen my heart, all possible expectations had been blown out of the water, and I was devastated to have to say goodbye. Italy was and is everything I had always dreamed it’d be, and already I’ve started dreaming of finding my way back there again.

Turkey

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Unfortunately for Mike the crappy end to Morocco became a crappy start to our Turkish travels. Despite making it to Istanbul without any major incidents, his sickness wasn’t subsiding fast. So three nights in the city turned into five, all of which he spent inside our hotel room slowly recuperating and returning to the land of the living by building his strength back up on yoghurt, bananas and dry crackers.
I meanwhile hit the streets of Istanbul so I could at least take photos of what he was missing, and stuffed myself silly of doner kebabs. The day spent exploring the magnificence of the Haigha Sophia and Blue Mosque was just sublime.
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The Blue Mosque has officially become one of my favourite buildings, I loved it so much. And while it was of course packed to the rafters with every tourist and his dog, what amazed me was how peaceful it could still feel, despite the people buzzing all around you.
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Filling the rest of my days wandering around all the delights Istanbul has to offer, the Grand Bazaar, the spice market, the Waterfront, and across the Bospherous into the ‘new’ part of the city, we finally got to the point where Mike felt ready to travel, and set off for our first stop in this enormous country, Cannakale and the battlefields of Gallipoli just across the Dardanelles.
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With so many companies offering tours of Gallipoli I had no idea what might be best, but finally we settled on Hassle Free tours, and while I have nothing to compare it to, I have to say our tour was excellent. Our Turkish guide Morat (not to be confused with Borat) was a wealth of knowledge, and his passion for the subject was immediately clear in his engaging presentation of what had gone on here nearly exactly a hundred years ago.
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Having already explored the battlefields of the Western front and Normandy, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Gallipoli, it is of course one of the key historical lessons we learn growing up, and making the pilgrimage there is quite the right of passage for many young Anzacs.
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I think the thing that hit me first was the incredible beauty of the coast line, it seemed a place more likely to hold tourist resorts than such a bloody history, with its crystal clear waters and phenomenal landscape.
With the details of the Gallipoli campaign ingrained in Anzacs from such a young age, it was hard to think I was going to learn anything ‘new’, but of course I was so wrong. It was fascinating to discover that while the initial beach landing went off course, there were many subsequent military decisions made that, had they been different, could’ve meant the campaign ended a very different way.
It was also enlightening to hear the story of the Turkish men who fought the campaign as well, and to hear their story. To learn of the daily bullet rations they dealt with, and their own questions of how these men came to be here, and what exactly it was they were fighting for. Of the 130 thousand soldiers who died in the eight and a half months of the campaign, 86,000 of them were Turks.
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With the trenches here just 8m apart, (the Turkish soldiers dug this close so the allies couldn’t be sure they wouldn’t hit their own men with bombardments from their ships) both sides were close enough to hear each other.  For us as we moved around the peninsula it was one of the most incredibly peaceful experiences, with hardly a sound to be heard. It was strange to think how different it must have been for those men a hundred years ago, the terrifying sounds of artillery, or their comrades or enemy crying out in fear, or in pain.
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I put my name in to the ballot to be able to attend the 100 year anniversary of the campaign this coming April, sadly like many many others it wasn’t pulled out. But the enduring relationship between the Anzacs and their Turkish brothers is one that I can’t even begin to express my gratitude for. The words of Ataturk in 1934, so soon after the war, and the bonds that remain …. After what was such a waste of life … is truly such a special thing.
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To be welcomed into this country as almost an extended family member was a humbling and incredible experience, and one that I will never ever forget. I feel immensely privileged and honoured to have been able to see the way our own men, who gave the ultimate sacrifice, have been able to rest in peace with their Turkish brothers.
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They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
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Bidding farewell to the coast line of Cannakale and its delicious fresh seafood (our first real foray into Turkish cuisine which we could not get enough of) it was off to Selcuk and the ancient world of Ephesus.
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In Selcuk we found ourselves at the kind of guesthouse that really makes your travel experience special. Run by a brother and sister, it was homely, packed to the rafters with beer and raki, and provided the best of mammas home cooking in a dining room full of travellers. Carrying on the Anzac spirit we met a fantastic Aussie couple to trade travel stories with, including our mutual amazement at all the ruins of Ephesus had to offer.
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Enjoying our time in Selcuk so much, we extended our stay by a night, deciding to do a day trip to Pamukkale  from there. Pamukkale’s white terraces of carbonate minerals left by the flowing water was another pinch yourself kind of moment. And although swarming with visitors, seemed completely unreal.
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From Selcuk we saddled up for the first of some pretty lengthy bus rides and headed south to Kas, and another wonderful guesthouse. Making the most of the sun and the crystal clear water of the Southern Turkish Coast, we sipped beers, dined on mouth watering calamari, bread and local dips, and discovered the heaven that’s Turkish dumplings/ravioli and Pida (Turkish pizza). Without a doubt the best food I’ve had since I started this adventure was in Turkey, and probably the best of the lot was in Kas. After eating ourselves into a food coma the first night, we returned to exactly the same restaurant and did it all again the second!
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Even the lunch we were treated to as we sailed around the coast on a boat was divine. Stuffed peppers, bbq’d chicken, how I didn’t sink straight to the bottom of the sea I’m still not sure. Food aside, the day on the boat was absolute bliss. Hours sailing in the sunshine, and jumping into water you could basically see straight through, took relaxation to a whole new level. And if that wasn’t enough, at one stop we were also treated to a visit by the most beautiful sea turtles. I didn’t want the day to end.
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Departing from Kas we had roughly 14 hours on a bus to look forward to in order to arrive in Cappadocia. Surprisingly enough what I thought could only be nightmarish, actually turned out to be relatively painless. The buses in Turkey are pretty ideal, complete with entertainment systems and attendants serving drinks and snacks. The movies unfortunately were all in Turkish, but it’s surprising how caught up in a story line you can get, even with no sound!
Landing in Cappadocia at 4am we made our way to bed in our cave room, before waking up just a few short hours later to make the most of our fast stopover. Exploring by foot we took in the fairy chimneys, valleys and open air museums that make this part of the country pretty spell binding.
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We’d made the executive decision not to do one of the hot air balloon rides the area is famous for, mostly due to the price. But despite that I still hauled myself out of bed at 530am the next morning to climb sunrise hill and watch the balloons take flight (Mike choosing wisely to stay in bed). Sadly that morning the sun was the only thing to rise, and even that wasn’t particularly spectacular. It was one of the few windy mornings that for safety reasons kept the balloons firmly on the ground, so I slumped back down the hill as disappointed as if I was supposed to be in one of the baskets!!
Filling myself to the brim with caffeine after the early wake up call, Mike and I then set off on a day tour to make the most of our last day in the area. Travelling to Derinkuyu Underground City, the Ihlara Valley and Selime Monastery, the day consisted of the most incredible sights which seemed like they had come straight from a Star Wars film. I had no idea that scenery like it existed in Turkey, and it was such a treat to get to see so  much of it.
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After a pretty full on 36 hours, we headed back to the bus stop for a 12 hour overnight ride back to Istanbul … which thankfully again seemed to pass pretty quickly. A short second stop in the city meant Mike could at least enjoy a few of the sights he’d missed the first time round, before it was time to take flight once again, nearly two and a half weeks over in what seemed like a flash.
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Turkey was without a doubt  a huge highlight on this adventure, the phenomenal cuisines, the kindness of the local people who welcomed us with open arms, and a history so closely intertwined with our own, made it a particularly special stop on this journey.

Poland

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Initially I’d thought I was taking a bus from Prague to Krakow, but on closer inspection of my ticket (late the night before I was leaving) I realised I was actually taking a train across the Czech Republic to Ostrava on the border, before transferring to, not so much a bus, but a mini van – the joys of booking travel in a different language! While not at all problematic in itself, inter city trains in non English speaking countries always make me nervous, that either I’m on the wrong train (so far I’ve never had my ticket checked) or that I’ll miss my stop as I won’t understand it when it comes over the loud speaker! But hooray with no trouble I made it to Ostrava and successfully transferred (along with 5  other travelers) to the mini van, and finally it was off to Krakow!

Arriving in the city I couldn’t believe the change in pace from my most recent destinations, it was much much smaller than Prague and Budapest, with everything easily in walking distance. And while buzzing with tourists of course, it just didn’t seem to be heaving quite as much with them. My first stop was an afternoon beer in the sun in Old Town’s Market Square  where I simply sat and watched the world go by before me, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.
Lost completely in the picturesque surroundings, it was absolute bliss.

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Sitting there it was hard to imagine that such a place could ever have been anything but this perfect Polish tranquil environment. But if I’d thought Hungary and the Czech Republic had had it rough, Poland was next level stuff, literally disappearing from the map at one stage. There is a pretty big reminder of this past right in the middle of Market Square with a statute commemorating a great Polish poet, Adam Mickiewicz, whose poetry during that time was a source of national remembrance and national identity, helping the Poles to survive and not forget about independence.  Hitler had it torn down when the Nazi’s invaded of course, but today it again stands proudly and steadfastly in the centre of the world going on around it. For me it was a pretty appropriate introduction to the city which I was pretty quickly falling in love with.

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The next day I took up what’s fast becoming one of my favourite activities, joining the free Jewish walking tour. I’ve done quite a few of these now, and while the guides can sometimes be a bit hit and miss, this one was excellent and I was captivated by every single word.

Before the war there were 3.5 million Jews in Poland, it was the biggest Jewish community outside of the United States. Pretty much since Poland’s discovery in around 966, they’ve played a big part in the country’s history.
So we began our tour in Kazimierz, the Jewish Quarter, a part of the city the Nazi’s surprisingly preserved, synagogues included. Why they did it still still leaves historians pretty stumped, some theories include the Nazi’s wanting to keep the community as a sort of museum of what they saw as an inferior race that would soon be extinct.

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Despite it’s preservation however, post war the Communist regime invested no money in anything connected with Jewish culture, so the area was left to rack and ruin. As a result it attracted criminals and drunks and became a very dire, and unsafe part of the city that most people stayed away from. It wasn’t until Steven Spielberg arrived to make Schindler’s List that things started changing. Whilst initially planning to shoot the movie in the original Jewish ghetto, which had subsequently been developed, he decided the Jewish quarter was a much more appropriate location given how run down and derelict it had become. Once the movie won its Oscars, people started becoming interested in the area, slowly bringing it back to life. In the early 1990s things really started changing, with artists and students moving into what was a very cheap living area. Becoming the bohemian centre of Krakow, bars and pubs were opened for musicians to play at, and people started flocking to what soon became (and still remains) the centre of Krakow’s nightlife. While the buildings are still pretty run down looking, the Jewish quarter’s now of course become an incredibly expensive and much sought after part of town to live, and like many similar parts of other cities like New York and Berlin, is now far too expensive for struggling artists!

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With Krakow becoming the Nazi capital of occupied Poland, and Nazi officers and their staff requiring housing in the finer part of town, the Jews were soon moved across the river to what became the ghetto. Wandering the streets these days there’s not much left to suggest the horrors that occurred in this part of town, except for Heroes square and the Eagle Pharmacy.

When the Nazi’s turned the area into the ghetto, the pharmacy’s Polish owner Tadeusz Pankiewicz  and workers found themselves right in the middle of it all. With Pankiewicz deciding to stay, he and his staff were the only Poles allowed to live and work there, with the Nazi’s hoping their presence would lessen the spread of disease. During the two year’s of the ghetto’s existence, the pharmacy became a life line, both in terms of the social aspect as the hub of the community, as well as the medical assistance it provided. Staff also assisted in delivering messages in and out of the ghetto, and helped with falsifying documents and avoiding deportations. The staff didn’t just risk their lives,but were forced to watch the horrors unfold as the ghetto, and its 15,000 inhabitants, was eventually ‘liquidated’.

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Just outside the pharmacy’s door is Heroes Square, it was from here that the 25 kilograms of luggage that the Jews were allowed to take with them when they were forced from their homes was confiscated and emptied for ransacking. It was also where the Jewish people were transported from to death camps, and where Nazi soldiers opened fire on those they knew would never survive the horrific journey. It wasn’t until 2004 that a memorial was established here, prior to that it had simply been a bus stop. Now the chairs symbolise the objects and the things that were all left waiting for their owners to return, each chair facing a particular direction to symbolise the different fates awaiting each of the victims.

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One of those directions of course is towards Oscar Schindler’s enamel factory, where our tour finished. It now houses a museum, not just about Schindler and the 1200 workers he’s credited with saving, but also depicts life in Krakow under Nazi Occupation. An absolutely excellent, and relatively new, museum, it provides a keen reminder that while of course the Jews by far suffered the most horrific fate, the wider Polish population themselves also suffered greatly during that time.

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There were 65 thousand Jews in Krakow before the war, now officially there are 110 members of the religious community. But experts say these days the official number probably doesn’t give and accurate story.

While ‘officially’ there are ten thousand Jews in the whole of Poland, the Chief Rabbi believes the actual number is probably closer to 30 thousand. That’s of course due to the fact that in such dangerous times, if people could bury their Jewish identity they did, assuming fake identities if possible, or giving their children to non Jewish families to raise in a bid to save them. Even post war under Communist rule much of what was left of the Jewish identity and culture in Poland was forced underground, 20 thousand Jews were expelled from the country after the 6 day war in the 1960’s. Now there are Jewish community centres that have been set up helping people trace their origins, as many may suspect, but don’t even know if they have Jewish heritage.

After a bit of a rest, Greta (a lovely Australian girl I met) and I joined another group of Aussies to sample the now famous night life of the Jewish Quarter. We ended up at the Singer Bar, a fabulous place which has old fashioned Singer sewing machines as tables, just one example of the amazing atmosphere, feeling and great vibrancy of this city. It’s always so nice to have some Aussies to share a few beers with, with the shared humour, commong ground and general opportunity to take the piss and have a laugh, it’s a bit of a taste of home!!

The next day the tone changed somewhat, as I set off on a journey which, from the outset of my travel, has always been at the top of the priority list, and that was a visit to Auschwitz Birkenau. I decided to take an organised tour to the Nazi death camps, as visiting alone is a little complicated (at this time of year any way), so I figured it would make what was already going to be a highly emotional day, a little easier. But even having my transport, guide and entry sorted, I should have realised nothing about visiting such a place was ever going to be easy.

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Despite being part of a guided group, it was an extremely hard visit to do alone, and for the first time since I started flying solo, I wished like anything I had a travel buddy. It may seem an odd thing, but in a place like that what I needed more than anything was some kind of human physical contact, a hand to hold, a shoulder to drape an arm over, a warm body to give a hug. With all the holocaust memorials and museums I had visited so far, I thought I was emotionally prepared for the harrowing rawness, but much like my feeling when I arrived at Dachau, nothing can ever prepare you for visiting such a place. While Auschwitz camp now houses a museum of evidence of the harrowing history of the death camps, the impact of Birkenau’s sheer size and scale, and gas chamber remains, packs a punch to the soul of a different kind. Retracing the final footsteps of so many Jewish people …. Standing in the same place as the Nazi doctors who with a simple hand gesture made their selections … The physical evidence of lives that were stolen … Of names that were replaced by numbers …. Of identities that were so cruelly and inhumanely stripped away by pure evil … was more overwhelming than I could ever have imagined. When I entered the room full of tiny baby clothes and children’s shoes I had to hold my breath in the hope of choking down my sobs. As hard a day as it was visiting such a place, I’m so glad I went, and better yet I’m so glad that places to remember (as harrowing as they may be) still exist to remind us of some of the darkest days of our history, and what humans can be capable of. Standing there and thinking of the current daily news bulletins filled with images out of Gaza, it was a reminder that seemed particularly poignant, and left me wondering just how far we as humans have actually come?  A nagging question I still can’t find an answer to, or seem to be able to quite shake off.

In need of some comfort food, I followed my day at Auschwitz with some of the local cuisine, opting for the pierogi, or polish dumplings, I had been reading about before I arrived. Stuffed with cabbage and meat and  covered in some kind of delicious polish sauce, it was the filling warm meal that I needed in order to recharge the batteries for my last day in Krakow.

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With the sun beating down on my final day in the city, I took myself off to Wawel castle to stroll the beautifully kept grounds. I’ve found that Castles (unlike churches) take a lot to wow me, so being treated to such gorgeous weather, I made the executive decision to skip the lines for any of the interior exhibitions and simply enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

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It was during these explorations that I stumbled across the den of the Wawel Dragon, and the wonderful legend that goes along with it. I’ve never considered myself much of a ‘dragon’ enthusiast, but my inner child was so captivated with the story, and I found myself just as enchanted as the tiny humans around me who were also wandering the den tucked away in the cliffs of the castle.

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Famous in Polish folklore, the dragon’s tale takes place in Krakow during the reign of King Krakus, the city’s leglegendary founder. Each day the evil dragon would beat a path of destruction across the countryside, killing the civilians, pillaging their homes and devouring their livestock. In many versions of the story, the dragon especially enjoyed eating young maidens, and could only be satisfied if the townsfolk left a young girl in front of its cave once a month. The King certainly wanted to put a stop to the dragon, but his bravest knights fell to its fiery breath. In the versions involving the sacrifice of young girls, every girl in the city was eventually sacrificed except one, the King’s daughter Wanda. In desperation, the King promised his beautiful daughter’s hand in marriage to anyone who could defeat the dragon. Great warriors from near and far fought for the prize and failed. One day a poor cobbler’s apprentice named Skuba accepted the challenge. He stuffed a lamb with sulphur and set it outside the dragon’s cave. The dragon ate it and soon became incredibly thirsty. He turned to the Vistula River for relief and drank and drank. But no amount of water could quench his aching stomach, and after swelling up from drinking half the Vistula river, he exploded. Skuba married the King’s daughter as promised, and they lived happily ever after.

I love it! Now while in the tale the dragon doesn’t play a particularly kind role, the little figurine I’m taking home of him does has him looking like the cutest little thing ever!!

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Spending the afternoon sitting in the sunshine under the castle and eating the most amazing home made ice cream I’ve ever tasted, I completed my last day in Krakow sharing a beer with a fantastic Norwegian mother and daughter, and then dinner with another Australian fellow traveler. I’ve been spoiled rotten so far with the people I’ve met in my travels, and had some of the most fascinating conversations with the most interesting people, which has simply been incredibly eye opening and by far the best thing about my travels.

Naturally, I found it incredibly difficult to part ways with Krakow, I had fallen for the city hook line and sinker. But, the crack of dawn saw me heading to the train station to take a train South towards the Polish and Slovakian border to the countryside and the famous Tatra mountains.

Sad to leave all my new friends and be alone again for the four hour journey, the travel gods seemed to be smiling on me once again. I found myself sharing a cabin with the kindest, most hilariously entertaining Polish American family. Completely bilingual, the family of three sons (who reminded me so much of my Alsford cousins back home) and a couple of their friends adopted me for the trip and we had a marvelous time. It never ceases to amaze me how complete strangers can make you feel so at home in such an instant, it really was lovely.

As much as I would’ve loved to join them for their six day hike into the mountains, we parted ways at Zakopane train station, and I made my way into the popular vacation spot under the mountains. Definitely in need of some wide open spaces, Zakopane reminded me a little of Turangi on steroids. While the scenery was divine, I was feeling more than daunted, as the further away from the big cities you are, the less English there is, and that can be hard work. But it wasn’t long before a beer, a traditional polish band and a meal with some of the regional smoked sheep cheese had me relaxing into my new surroundings.

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The next day an early start had me making my way on a minibus towards the Tatra mountains in search of the great emerald lake, or Morskie Oko. I was initially a little nervous about heading of into the mountains alone, but I soon realised I was anything but alone. The hike is one of the most popular routes for visitors to Zakopane so there were loads of people about. The hike itself was incredible and the lake absolutely stunning, photos can’t really capture it’s colour, or quite how crystal clear the water is.

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I’m sure it must look even more incredible on a clear sunny day, but I was pretty happy with the cloud cover as it was hot enough! Climbing a little more I found a second smaller lake which was just as beautiful and a nice change of scenery from city life. From there many of the hikers were making their way further into the mountains but I figured it was a little bit beyond my skill level! So I started the long trek back towards the car park and patted myself on the back for making myself get out of bed early, as every man and his dog seemed to have arrived at the mountain! I couldn’t believe the swarms of people making their way up as I climbed down. They were all heading straight into the throngs of the loudest thunder storm I have ever heard, with the clouds finally tearing open with heavy rain just as I made it safely back onto my bus home.

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Exhausted I tucked into a little more hot and hearty polish food, before sorting myself out for the night train that was taking me north to Warsaw. Travelling alone the night train had me a little anxious, it wasn’t a sleeper train, just seats in the compartments, and the little helpful guides everywhere suggesting ways to prevent the robberies made me a little nervous. Coupled with having having no idea what the driver was saying over the speaker every time we stopped somewhere in the dead if the night, I would have to say it wasn’t the most enjoyable of journeys. Luckily though a nice Polish guy sharing my compartment could obviously sense my anxiety and translated, the mostly unimportant information, reassuring me enough to at least get a few hours sleep.

By 8am I had made it to Warsaw, and after a bit of breakfast headed straight to the meeting point for the city’s free walking tour. I didn’t really know what to expect from the city, a lot of people had told me that given it was completely flattened during the war it’s a pretty uninspiring ugly place. But personally I found it to be one of the most inspiring places I have ever visited, and a lesson in resilience like no other.

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With Hitler making no secret about wanting to destroy the city of Warsaw, and eventually seeing that plan through, local historians hid blue prints and city plans, so that eventually they could one day see a Phoenix rise from the ashes. And so it has, the Old City has been completely rebuilt, using whatever could be salvaged from the past. It’s fascinating to look closely at buildings and see the secret signs of history, darkened bits of materials that still carry the marks of fire and destruction, being pieced together with new materials used to move the city forward again.

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Visiting just a few days after the anniversary of the Warsaw uprising, evidence of the commemorations marking Warsaw’s attempt to save their independence were still dotted all around the city.

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It’s a part of World War Two history I knew very little about, and I was fascinated to learn all that I could about one of the most important events in the history of the country. Desperate to capture the city before the red army arrived, 25,000 soldiers of the Home Army and other troops took up arms against the Germans. Despite the strength of the German soldiers, and the complete indifference of the soviets, the poorly armed insurgents managed to fight for two months, and eventually regained control over large areas of the city. But in hearing the news of the rising, Hitler gave the order to have all the occupants of Warsaw killed, and the city flattened. Those carrying out the orders didn’t distinguish between resistance fighters and regular civilians, who were trapped in the middle of the battle ground, and eventually it resulted in the biggest massacre of polish people by the Nazi army.

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With the bitter fighting eventually ending in military defeat, it was another 45 years before Poland finally won its independence. With this new historical backdrop to the city I saw Warsaw in a whole new light, and while I’ll admit it isn’t the most beautiful of places to visit, it is without a doubt one of the most fascinating places I have ever been.

I definitely hadn’t expected to be quite as captivated with Poland as I was, but for many reasons it’ll be a place that I won’t be forgetting about any time soon. It truly was such an incrediby eye opening learning journey for me, and I hope one day to be able to get back and explore more of what this country with such a fascinating history has to offer.

Czech Republic

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My journey to the Czech Republic began with an 8 hour bus ride through Slovakia, with a wee break in Bratislava, where the rows and rows of communist style block apartment buildings (known in this part of the world as Paneláks) dominating the horizon were a stark reminder of the lingering hangover of recent history in this part of the world.

Finally arriving in Prague, my hostel was about a ten minute tram ride from the city centre, containing everything a traveller could possibly need, the crown jewel was its underground cellar bar packed to the rafters with amazingly delicious, perfect for the extreme heat, Czech beer. I’ve never been a big beer drinker, but it’s amazing how fast you develop a thirst for it!! Unfortunately at this rate I’m sure to be developing a less desirable beer belly as well ….. but given those here in the Czech Republic consume on average 160 litres of beer per person per year, it would be rude not to join in!

After a few beers too many, and a free hostel BBQ dinner with all the trimmings, this was an ideal way to start the day in the cosy court yard of the hostel …

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… before it was back to pounding the pavement to take in all the wonders Prague has to offer.

Exploring the grounds around Prague castle was first on the agenda, with Anya, a lovely Russian/American girl I met in the hostel, covering around 18 acres of land it is huge. However, it definitely wasn’t the most amazing of castles I’ve seen on my journey so far, with the crowds of tourists there definitely detracting from the experience, the place was literally heaving with people.

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After lunch of Czech Goulash, dumplings, and of course beer, we joined one of Prague’s walking tour, complete with a giant Scottish guide. Taking us through Old town, past the 600 year old astronomical clock (officially one of the most overrated sights in Europe), through the Jewish quarter and past the 1270 oldest active Jewish synagogue, we checked out the beautiful art nouveau inspired buildings dotted around the city, as well as stopping for, you guessed it, more beer.

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After browsing the souvenir stands of Charles Bridge, I took a stroll to the Lennon wall, before dining on more Czech food with a few others from the hostel. Ordering a variety of local dishes to share, the key learning of the night was definitely that Czechs enjoy things deep fried …. Bread/cheese/potato pancakes you name it. Delicious of course, but oh so bad.

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The next day Anya and I decided to take a day trip to the small town of Terezin, a former Jewish Ghetto and Nazi prison. 155,000 people passed through Terezin during the war, 35,000 of them perished there, while another 87,000 were transported on from there to their deaths.

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Many of them of course were children, and for the first time I felt like I got a real insight into what life during this period has been like for them. This was mainly down to the surviving artwork that was created by them, in an art school in the ghetto set up by a Jewish art teacher. The pictures and paintings depicted their interpretation of life in the Ghetto, as well as what they missed most from home, and what they hoped for again in the future, a future most of them never lived to see.
With very little photographic evidence of life for the people in Terezin at that time, it was art that survived from the adult population as well. Many of the artists sent there were put to work as technical workers, instructed to create false illustrations of life in the camp to use in Nazi propaganda campaigns. But many covertly and secretly used their resources to create realistic representations of life there which they smuggled to the outside world. It was some of the most desperate soul aching art work I’ve ever seen. Most of the artists were of course found out, sent to the Ghetto prison, and killed.

The town itself, which is almost completely cut off from the outside world by fortification walls built by the Hapsburg’s, has an incredibly eery feeling, and wandering the streets I could almost feel the weight of it’s dark past. While local Czechs were ordered out of the area at the time it was turned into the ghetto, these days the small town is of course sparsely populated again.

We stopped for lunch at one of the local places on offer. I couldn’t decipher anything on the menu so basically closed my eyes and pointed. What came out was a very basic, messy looking plate of pork, dumplings and a tonne of gravy. Not one to turn my nose up at food, I dug in. It was without a doubt right up there with the tastiest food I’ve eaten. Just another example of how some of the best experiences can often come when they’re least expected and in the strangest places.

The next day I travelled a little South of the city centre to Vysehrad castle and park, an incredibly tranquil area, that despite only being four metro stops from the old city, felt worlds away as tourist numbers dropped off dramatically.

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As much as I would have liked to stay in this peaceful end of the city, with so much still on the ‘to do’ list, it was back to old town and the windy streets still crawling with people.

Back in the thick of it I visited a memorial I had wanted to see since I initially arrived. Commemorating two young Czech students, who both set themselves on fire in 1969 in protest following the Prague spring. At just 21 and 22 years old, the young men wanted to wake up their Czech brothers and sisters and show them they had to fight back against their communist oppressors for their freedom. But sadly it was too little too late, the country had already become a normalised communist regime again, and like their fellow eastern counterparts, it would be another twenty years before the Czech people would finally take back control of their country.

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Continuing my Communist era education, I headed off to the Communism Museum, with the irony of its location (above a McDonald’s and next to a casino) definitely not lost on me.It was yet another example of an extremely fascinating museum.

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Rounding the day out, I finished as I’d started, and escaped a sudden deluge of rain by enjoying more Czech beer at a beer garden overlooking the city.

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While I would have to say of all the people I’ve encountered so far, the Czechs definitely don’t have the sunniest of dispositions, you have to admire the resilience of the people here. There’s been very little time in their history where they’ve actually been governed by Czechs and not foreign powers, yet they’ve held steadfastly to their cultural identity. Like many times during this European journey, here in Prague I was struck again with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for what we’ve got, and the past we’ve had, in our little corner of the world.

I was incredibly sad to say goodbye to Prague, and of course the Czech beer, again I think exploring more of the countryside would have been a fascinating experience. But alas with a strict budget and timetable to keep to, it was onwards to the final step on my Eastern Journey, Poland.

Hungary

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I didn’t really know what to expect when I set off on my Eastern Europe adventure, and to be honest with the recent current events concerning passenger planes, I was a little nervous to be travelling full stop. But despite the very rainy start, Budapest was quite the welcome to the East.

My hostel was in the Jewish quarter, which was pretty much in the middle of everything. It was an incredibly vibrant part of town, full of restaurants, bars and clubs.

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Like my recent destinations, I decided to take up the free walking tour of the city to properly get my bearings, and with the meeting spot at St Stephen’s Basilica, I took the opportunity to have a look around inside.
With so many Cathedrals/Churches/Basilicas around Europe I’ve been warned I’ll get to the point where I’ll never want to see another interior ever again. But it would seem I’m still yet to reach that point as St Stephens took my breath away.

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Not only is it incredibly beautiful, it still houses St Stephen’s Holy right hand, which was the only part of his body to have miraculously mummified when they dug it up many years after his death. But it doesn’t just hold the miracle hand of the Saint, it also has the country’s holy left foot as well, with Hungarian football hero Ferenc Puskás buried there. I’m not sure how many football players get such a notable final resting place, but I guess in the eyes of Hungarians, he is also about as saintly as you can get!!!

As the clock struck 10, an incredibly energetic local guide Stefi took charge of our tour, and with that I got my first insight into Budapest and the Hungarian culture.

Interestingly after Denmark and the so called happiest people in the world, I found out Hungarian people are the most pessimistic. But who can blame them given their tumultuous history, there’s always been someone invading/taking over/splitting the country apart. In fact the Hungarian language is apparently the 2nd most difficult in the world to learn, and that’s mostly down to the fact that it has been influenced by so many other languages. According to Stefi if you’re serious about learning it, the fastest way is to take a Hungarian lover, as the best place to learn is in bed ……

For me it really has been fascinating to cross country borders and see how parts of history connect throughout Europe, it’s like a great big puzzle where certain places join up with others along the way. Here my education of the Austro Hungarian empire and the Hapsburg royal family continued, this time however from the Hungarian perspective. Here Princess Elizabeth was adored and loved so dearly, no one refers to her as Sissi, as the country and princesses’ mutual admiration means she’s far to revered to be referred to by her nickname. She did a lot of work pushing for Hungary’s independence, and actually spent a lot of time here during her life. Now many many parts of the city are named after her and she is still held in the highest regard. Princess Elizabeth also learned the Hungarian language, which the people here still appreciate very much. Although, so the story goes, she learnt it in just two years …. So rumour has it she must’ve been learning in someone’s bed!! I love that decades on the people here still relish in the scandal of it all!!

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The whole bed activity subject seemed to be a bit of a running Hungarian theme, apparently rubbing the stomach of this little fellow ….

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…. Uncle Charlie the jovial policeman, helps give you luck in the fertility department. And not only that, the healing powers of Budapest’s famous thermal baths are also said to make you ripe for the picking. Intrigued, I had to ask if there was any real proof to this claim, and was informed about the hippos at Budapest zoo. Whilst they’re one of the most popular attractions in the city, they weren’t very happy with the cold climate of their Budapest home. So the brains behind the city’s operation came up with a natural answer, with the city’s most popular hot thermal baths right next door, a little tinkering with pipes etc meant the hippos could enjoy a hot bath too! Anyway again, so the story goes, very soon the hippos started breeding at much faster rates, and now, while Hungary isn’t the richest of countries when it comes to exports, they do have the highest rates of hippo exports than any other European country.

With those details settled, our group crossed the river from Pest into Buda. Almost instantly there was quite a different feel between the two parts of the city, as if the pace of life slowed down just a little. Interestingly the attitudes of the populations on either side of the river are quite different to! Those living in Buda consider the Pest population to be uncultured and a little more on the wild side … Whilst those in Pest think inhabitants of Buda are rich snobs.

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After exploring a little more of Buda and the breathtaking views from the Fisherman’s Bastion, I took myself off to the House of Terror, which, while not housing the happiest of materials (the name may have given that away …) it was an absolutely excellent museum. Located in the former headquarters of the gruesome Hungarian Arrow Cross Party and the Hungarian Nazis, post World War Two it was also where the notorious communist terror organisations took up residence. Inside lighting, music, and creative exhibition displays brought to life some of the most harrowing aspects of Budapest’s recent history.

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After a busy day I was very much in need of sustenance in the form of a traditional Hungarian dinner of stuffed cabbage leaves with goose salami and sour cream at the beautiful restaurant Spinoza. Complete with a piano player, candle light, and a few wines, the experience cost me a grand total of about $14.

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This fine dining experience followed a breakfast of some kind of sweet pastry concoction filled with apple and berries at the steep price of 50 cents, and lunch of a traditional wood fire oven cooked pizza bread topped with Hungarian sausage, a feast which set me back about a staggering $4.

Not all of my culinary adventures were good experiences however. Some Aussie backpackers thought they’d keep up the Anzac spirit and share what looked like an absolutely delicious kind of cinnamon scroll with me. It turned out to be, well I don’t know what actually, but it was quite possibly the most disgusting thing I’ve ever eaten. I couldn’t even place the taste, but it was very strange and lingered long after the disastrous mouthful. I’ve been googling and googling but am still yet to work out exactly what the culprit was!

With so much food as delicious and cheap as all of this, I figured another decent walk was in order, so I decided to climb up to the the city’s citadella and Budapest’s very own Lady Liberty. The citadella was ordered by Austrian King Franz Joseph in 1853, completed in 7 years, it was actually hated by the Hungarian population as the people regarded it as a threatening symbol of Austrian power. Used extensively throughout the war, now it offers a complete panoramic view of the city, and gave me my first opportunity to really take in the magnificent might of the great Danube river. Flowing through four capital cities, the river passes through or touches the borders of ten countries: Romania, Hungary, Serbia, Austria, Germany, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Croatia, Ukraine, and Moldova. Standing from the height I was at was quite the sight, each way you looked it stretched so far into the distance it melted into the horizon.

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Since walking over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco I’ve become a tiny bit obsessed with bridges, so Budapest couldn’t have been more perfect for me!!! While the Chain Bridge was the first one to connect Buda and Pest, there are now also seven others, and I absolutely loved how beautiful and intricate each one was.

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With the sun beating down, it was time to take a break from the city and head to Margaret Island between Buda and Pest, where I hired a bike and enjoyed the beautiful gardens and green space. It’s always such a relief to be able to find a bit of an escape from busy cities, and Margaret Island provided just that.

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The walk back from there to my hostel also gave me the chance to check out the stunning Parliament buildings, as well as the incredibly moving Jewish shoe monument, commemorating the Hungarian Jewish victims, killed by the Arrow Cross militiamen. The killings usually took place en masse – the victims were lined up at the embankment, and shot into the Danube, execution-style.

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After a day of some serious walking and very little to eat but ice cream, the body was in need of more Hungarian food. Having had Frici Papa recommended to me by several locals I took myself off in search of some more local cuisine. While not quite the atmospheric experience of the night before, (the wait staff were very dead pan, and the decor quite strange), it was, I’m told, a far more authentic Hungarian experience. So I ordered up the very traditional chicken paprikash (Hungarian stew), and it was delicious!
With their love of soups and goulash the Hungarian cuisine is definitely more suited to a colder climate, but even temperatures of around 29 degrees couldn’t stop me once again devouring every morsel I could get my hands on!!!

Discovering a fellow kiwi in my hostel room,  we decided check out one of Budapest’s most popular ruin pubs, and what a crazy trippy place it was. As the name suggests, ruin pubs are found in the most unlikely places, damaged and dilapidated buildings that remain in the state they were left in following the war. Post communism these buildings were snapped up at cheap prices, and rather than being repaired, owners had artists come and decorate the spaces in crazy creative ways, turning them into the bars and clubs that are now an integral part Budapest’s crazy night life, identity and culture. It’s hard for photos to really capture the uniqueness of these places, which are often several stories tall, you really have to see it to understand it.

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In need of a little R&R, my last day consisted of a walk through Heroes Square, onto the healing relaxing waters of the Széchenyi thermal baths. Again, probably an activity better suited to a colder time of year, but with one pool luckily kept at a cooler temperature, it was nice to finally be able to relax by a bit of water!! I’ve been spoiled by the fact that you’re never very far away from some kind of swim-able water source in New Zealand, so summer in land locked countries is definitely requiring some acclimatising!

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While it was a pretty ideal way to spend the day, I definitely have come to love this city the most by night – not just because of the epic night life that’s on offer here, but because the city comes to life in a whole new way once the sun goes down. Buildings and bridges that stunned me by day, had me swooning even more under the night sky.

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As always my time in Hungary came and went too fast, and I was left with a lingering wishful feeling that I’d stayed longer and explored some more of the country side.  I had intended to do some day trips to get out of the city, but with so much to see and explore, time once again got the better of me … But luckily the Eastern Europe experience was only just beginning.

Denmark

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The novelty certainly hasn’t worn off of having so many countries at your fingertips here in Europe. With a little help from a beautiful ferry crossing, a bus had me in Denmark from Berlin in just over 7 hours. For a Kiwi kid the ease of crossing country borders without having to get on a plane is still pretty amazing!!
So here I was in Copenhagen reuniting with a very special friend who I studied at Broadcasting School with. It was there in pre-earthquake Christchurch that Emily dragged me almost daily to the Copenhagen bakery to share with me her love for all things Danish. When she moved back here a few years ago I vowed I would make it to the real Copenhagen with her before she left, and it was incredibly exciting to actually make that plan a reality!
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Instantly I could see how the city had so completely stolen Emily’s heart. She described it to me as a big village, and I think that’s probably the perfect description. You get all the advantages and excitement of a capital city, without feeling daunted, intimidated or lost as everything is so compact and more intimate.  The endless summer days seemed to go on and on, it’d be light by 4am in the morning, and wouldn’t really get dark until well after 11pm which meant you hardly felt like you needed to sleep at all! With the lack of sun light during the winter months, for the Danish summer means being outside as much as possible, which means there is so much going on all the time.
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Now if I had thought there were a lot of bikes in Germany things reached a whole new level in Copenhagen.
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I quickly learned EVERYONE in the city rides a bike, so after a day of watching the beautiful Danes roll along so gracefully, I decided I must get amongst it and experience the freedom of travelling in a city that was built for cycling. So I hired a bike and took to the road expecting a gloriously calming experience ……
But oh how wrong I was! I had never been so incredibly stressed/terrified in all my life!! It was literally like taking to the open road in a car without learning how to drive first. Not only were there rules and signals that I had no idea about, my brain also struggled  to negotiate travelling on the right hand side of the road, my lack of knowledge resulting in a lot of Danish words that I couldn’t understand (probably for the best) being yelled in my direction, and angry bells following me around the street (like Germany cycling is a serious business here).
So needless to say my first day on two wheels was spent mostly walking alongside my bike!
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But I’m proud to say that despite the stress and terror I persevered, and breathed a sigh of relief at the weekend ticking over so I at least had Emily to follow! With a bit of practice (and a better sense of direction) I even managed to spend Saturday night riding in heels and a dress, no easy feat, well for me anyway, the Danes seem to be able to do anything texting/talking on their phone/carrying children/carrying shopping etc all while cycling.
By my last day I felt totally at home on my bike and was so sad to have to give her up. It really is such a great way to get around, especially when the sun is shining (not so much when it’s raining which evidentally happens quite a lot during the Danish summer).
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But there is of course more to Copenhagen than its extensive cycle ways! With some quality Little Mermaid time, a Canal trip, a visit to Christiania the hippy commune (where you can buy all things marijuana should you so wish, but more importantly in my view incredibly delicious pork sandwiches), a visit to Hans Christian Anderson’s grave, dates with Degas, Monet and Van Gogh at the Glyptotek art gallery, and so much Danish food in my belly, I quickly ticked off all the must do’s of such a vibrant, beautiful city.
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But a stay with Emily McLean always means more than the normal. Thanks to a new friend she’d spent approximately 15 mins with at a BBQ the previous weekend, she had us on the guest list for work drinks at the United Nations Danish Headquarters. An incredibly fun night exploring the elaborate building (built for the UN by the Danish government), and meeting people from all over the world.
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The next day Emily took me along to two birthday parties which took me behind the tourist hotspots and gave me an amazingly authentic taste of Danish culture. The first party started off with sports in the park, before a dinner party that included beautiful food, wine, and fabulous traditional Danish birthday singing.
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For me it was such a privilege to be invited along and to be able to partake in such a wonderful cultural experience. Interestingly it also gave me quite the insight into how the Kiwi culture is perceived too, after spending quite a while talking to a Danish couple who’d recently returned from living in NZ for 6 months. While they loved their time in NZ they found kiwis to be very conflict averse people, beating around the bush rather than being direct and to the point, something Danes have no problem with!
They also hated the stock standard white tip top bread, which is completely understandable once you taste the delicious dark brown bread that’s full of seeds that the Danes are brought up on!
Which brings me to the Danish food … a cuisine I was secretly hoping I wouldn’t be too fussed about given my current daily calorie intake. But alas like everything else I found in Denmark, the food was divine! With the advantage of local knowledge, Emily had me at all the good coffee houses, dining on Danish pastries, Danish sausages, Danish liquorice, Danish summer fruit (which is super sweet thanks to all the sunlight), as well as traditional summer foods like a custard and biscuit concoction the name of which I wasn’t even able to repeat when Emily tried to tell me how to pronounce it.
Danes love their traditions, and are so proud of their culture and where they come from, I really appreciated their optimistic attitude and so enjoyed embracing everything about the culture.
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Partying with Emily’s Danish friends also have me more of an insight into what life must be like for expats like her, especially when they move to a foreign country where English isn’t the first language. All around me conversations were going on with me not having a clue what was being said. It gave me a taste of just how isolating I’m sure it can be at times, and so much more admiration for those who take up the challenge to really experience the new and unknown. Emily can of course speak fluent Danish now, I can’t imagine ever being able to learn another language (especially Danish, which requires the use of a totally different part of your mouth) so well!
But Ems has found her fair share of cultural differences which was also fascinating to hear about – as well as her job running the social media for Maersk, she’s become a minor celebrity with her Copenhagen Post column outlining her experiences with dating the Danes (Carrie Bradshaw eat your heart out). For guaranteed laugh out loud moments check it out here.
It was another tough goodbye leaving Copenhagen and the incredibly beautiful Danes – Emily tells me the natural beauty gets even more extreme the further north you head, she said on a flight to Iceland once she felt like she was flying with a bunch of Elves back to Rivendell, an analogy I found completely fitting for the Scandinavian people.
Although not the cheapest part of Europe to explore I hope my travels can bring me back to this part of the world in the near future, I’ve heard only amazing things about Sweden, Norway and Iceland, and would absolutely love to see more of such a beautiful part of the world.

Germany

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What better welcome could you have to Germany, than arriving the day of the country’s first Football World Cup game. Everywhere fans were draped in flags, had their faces painted or were wearing their football jerseys with confidence and optimism, it was a pretty amazing atmosphere to arrive to.
I was met off my bus in Munich by the lovely Ava who, along with her partner Corey, I was staying with. Friends of Louise’s they’ve been living here for about 3 years while Ava finishes her PhD, and it was so nice to see some friendly and so welcoming kiwi faces.
Ava took me on my own personal walking tour of the city which was fabulous, starting with a work out climbing St. Peter’s church bell tower for a panoramic view of the city (luckily I was too puffed to be too worried about the height). Then of course she had me standing in the front row at 5pm for the famous Rathaus-Glockenspiel show – just adorable!
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After a few hours of city strolling it was off to meet Corey for dinner and beer at one of the biggest beer halls in Munich, Augustiner. And it was huuuuuge, I was floored by how big the hall itself was, and then the huge beer garden on top of that, and of course everywhere was completely packed by frenzied football fans. The food, beer and pretzels were all just delicious! Having been in Munich for all of about four hours by that point, I knew already Bavaria was a region I was going to love.
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The next day was definitely a change in pace, as I made my way out to the Dachau concentration camp memorial site. I’ve seen the pictures, I’ve watched the documentaries, I’ve read the books, but personally I think nothing can ever really prepare you for a visit to a place where so many lives were so needlessly and horrifically lost.
What really hit home for me the most was just how close the camp is to the surrounding Dachau township, where for it’s entire 12 year history those who lived there went about their daily lives so close to the camp’s  perimeter.
Despite cameras flashing all around me, I personally didn’t feel it was appropriate to be taking pictures. For me the photos the American troops took of emaciated prisoners and bodies upon bodies piled up when they liberated the camp was enough. The one photo I did decide to take was of these words on the memorial:
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While much of Dachau still stands as it always did, important words like ‘never again’ and ‘do not forget’ now also stand in place amongst the memorials that are steadfast additions.
I found it hard to shake off the overwhelming sense of despair in humanity after leaving, but I’m definitely glad I went. It was an education quite unlike any history book could ever give you.
The next day I took a train for 2 hours out of the city into the countryside near the Bavarian border for a slightly different experience,  escaping into the breathtakingly beautiful and idyllic surroundings of Neuschwanstein castle. Ludwig 11’s masterpiece was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, and it really was like stepping into a fairy tale. Tucked away in the Bavarian mountains it was gorgeous, and the clear water of the surrounding lakes was just amazing, you could almost feel the music of Wagner, who the castle pays homage to, drifting through the breeze.
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By the time I got to Germany I was feeling a little over palaces so thought I’d give the interior tour a miss, but at the last minute changed my mind. And I’m really glad I did, it was such a fascinating place to be. Very little of the castle is actually finished, because the building stopped when the king died, but being inside was a fascinating insight into Ludwig’s head. Again unfortunately photos weren’t allowed, but my goodness it was lovely.
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Bavaria is such a beautiful part of Germany, it’s so charming and peaceful, and the countryside is just simply breathtaking. I was lucky enough to be able to see quite a bit it as thanks to a public holiday, Corey, Ava and I spent the next day hiking in an area called Tegernsee. It was beautiful. Sadly given the quality of my camera the photos just can’t quite do it the justice it deserves, the scenery was just gorgeous.
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When Corey pointed out the tiny church poking up at the top of this cliff as our first destination, I honestly thought he was joking.
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But after assuring me it was actually possible to walk up there, we made it, and it was lovely.
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With Bavarians and beer going hand in hand, you’re never far from a beer garden, even when you’re hiking in the mountains!!!! Throughout the walks beer gardens pop up in the most unlikely places, so a lunch break meant weizenbier (wheat beer) and Bavarian cheese pretty much in the middle of nowhere!!!! It was seriously so great.
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For me the Bavarian food has been some of my most favourite so far, as a carnivore it appeals greatly to me (I don’t know how you’d survive as a vegetarian here!!!). My last meal consisted of red cabbage (made with apple, so delicious), spätzle (egg noodles), dumpling, pork, hamburger, duck and sausage, all covered in delicious gravy – I truly felt like I had consumed a small farm. Then after swearing I couldn’t possibly fit anything else in, I helped Corey and Ava polish off a plate of Bavarian pancakes, oh so good.
It was particularly difficult to say goodbye to Corey and Ava’s incredible Kiwi kindness and company, they had truly made my time in Munich such an incredibly fun and interesting experience. But given how much I was enjoying the local cuisine, it was probably a good thing I didn’t stay any longer!!!!
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7 hours on a bus and I was transported into what felt like a different planet. After the traditional culture of Bavaria, Berlin seemed worlds away with it’s graffiti art and splashes of artistic colour that gives the city it’s unique identity and edge.
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I didn’t initially warm to Berlin which surprised me, and I can’t quite put my finger on why. Perhaps it was due to the unseasonably freezing rainy weather, or the fact that a lot of my time was spent taking in pretty emotionally heavy pieces of history. I’m not sure, but I’m glad I had the luxury of staying around a little longer than most travellers as it definitely grew on me.
I was once again lucky enough to be taken in by the kindest hosts I could hope for, Katie a friend I’d met while on exchange in the states 11 years ago, and her German boyfriend Bosse. It was an absolute treat as I got to fully immerse myself in the German culture, and also spent so much time chatting to Bosse about what it was like growing up in such a different culture to my own, as well as learning about Katie’s experiences moving there from a country like the US. We spent a lot of time drinking local beer and eating SO much of the local German cuisine (which is fast becoming my favourite!!), and even spent one evening making cheese spätzle (pretty much Germany’s version Mac & Cheese) from scratch, an experience I absolutely loved!
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I was also fortunate enough to arrive on a weekend when Berlin really was showing the best of its identity and culture off, with both the Christopher Street Parade (gay pride celebrations) and Music de la Fete taking place.
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With the World Cup in full swing, I also got to experience more frenzied football fans when Germany took on Ghana (which proved a little more exciting than I thought it’d be!!) and as a result have now officially adopted Germany as my World Cup team. Much like Munich, all through Berlin German flags celebrating the football team hung from buildings, windows and cars – interestingly I’m told the World Cup is one of the only times Germans feel like they can wave and display their flags with pride, and not feel like everyone will freak out. Apparently most of the time you’d rarely see the German flag flying so boldly, unless of course it’s on official Government buildings.
I felt like you could really reach out and touch the history of both World War Two, and the Cold War in Berlin which really was fascinating for me. My days were filled with Third Reich walking tours, visits to monuments and memorials, the Jewish memorial museum, the Typography of Terror museum (outlining the dark days of the Gestapo and SS across Europe), as well as the East Side gallery, and Berlin Wall monuments and memorials.
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I’m told after ignoring the dark days of World War Two for quite some time after the war, Germany now confronts its history head on, and there really is so much opportunity to learn, and educate, and most importantly never forget what happened during that time.
One of the most moving memorials I came across were little golden plaques I found dotted around the city. Slightly raised from the footpath they’re designed to make you almost trip over them so you look down. On each one is the name of a Jewish person who was taken from their home, where they were sent to, and in most cases where they died. You’ll find a lot of them around the city as there’s one for each person who was taken from Berlin, and they’re positioned in front of the the home or location where they were taken from.
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Experiencing the German culture really has been incredibly interesting for me. I guess perhaps because it’s one of the few places I’ve been so far where I’ve felt such stark differences with the New Zealand culture. The German love for rules and order, and their absolute precision with things like public transport really appealed to me. Luckily I was informed that police will stop and fine you if they catch you jaywalking (which is a very common thing for Wellingtonians to do!), and parents will yell at you if they see you crossing before you get a green man (which are particularly cute in Berlin) as you’re teaching their children bad habits. For the most part they will literally stand and wait even if there’s not a car in sight for their green walking light!
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There is also very little security for the tubes and trains as commuters are trusted to purchase and pay for their tickets. There are random ticket inspections of course, but the locals are highly unlikely to be caught out breaking the rules.
Probably worth noting here too that another set of rules are preeeeetty important to adhere to, especially when you’re a tourist, and that’s keeping out of the way of cyclists!!! With so many cyclists, there are bike lanes everywhere, and often for the untrained eye it can be hard to establish where the footpath ends and the bike lane begins. You do however learn very quickly when you get it wrong and find yourself in the middle of cycle way where angry cyclists, going at insanely fast speeds, are prepared to run right over the top of you! One of my tour guides joked that German motorists wouldn’t hit you with their car as then they’d have to clean them, but German cyclists show no mercy!
I’ve so loved the green thinking of Germany, and the planning that goes into creating green public places, especially in the city. When I travelled from Munich to Berlin I saw wind turbines and fields full of solar panels everywhere. And of course almost everywhere is built for bikes. And the parks have been such an experience. In Munich the English garden had this fantastic part of the river where crazy surfers could ride waves (right in the middle of the city!!).
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In Berlin I checked out a park that had been developed around former railway lines, as well as Tempelhofer Airport, the old US sector airport that closed down in 2008 and is now a recreational space. Berliners voted overwhelmingly to stop any building development in the space so now it has native grasslands, community gardens, and huge runways that are full of cyclists, roller bladders, skateboarders, wind surfers and all sorts. I really get the feeling that no space is ever wasted or left to become overgrown and derelict.
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The one thing that is taking a little getting used to in Europe is the prevalence of smokers. I’m not sure if NZ is more smokefree than I give it credit for, or if I just don’t notice it as much back home, but on this side of the world it seems pretty hard to escape the wafting clouds of smoke.
Smoke clouds aside though, Germany for me was definitely a real cultural adventure, and I loved exploring the parts I was fortunate enough to visit. If I could’ve taken a life time supply of currywursts home with me I definitely would have, but instead I left (no doubt several kilos heavier) with so many amazing cultural experiences, and a back pack full of more German chocolate than one person needs!!!

England So Far

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Travelling to England from the States, I was under the strange illusion that arriving in the Motherland would have some kind of a loosely ‘home coming’ feel about it. I was after all doing the pilgrimage so many young Kiwis do when they decide to head off to explore the world. Yet strangely, initially Britain seemed a more foreign world to me than the good old U S of A. I’m not entirely sure why, but perhaps it was to do with the fact that while my stop in America was a visit, I was trading in NZ for this place as home for the next wee while at least. Whatever the case, after the awkward initial meeting one might liken to getting to know a new flat mate, I think Britain and I have finally found our groove, and I am loving getting to know my new buddy.
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According to Samuel Johnson, when you’re tired of London you’re tired of life.
I read that saying in my Europe on a Shoestring book before I even arrived, but I really didn’t truly understand the words until I experienced the city for myself.
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London really is such a feast for all the senses and thanks to a bit of local advice from the wonderfully amazing friends I have living here, I’ve been packing in as many of the sights as I possibly can: Colombia Road Flower Market, Brick lane, Chesham pubs, Village walks, Hyde park, Battersea park, Regent park (I LOVE how there are lush green parks EVERYWHERE), Borough Market, Tower of London, St Pauls, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, Downing St, Oxford St, Shoreditch, Museums, and pints or two everywhere in between. To be honest I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this city before I arrived, but I have very quickly come to adore it and there is still SO much more to see and do.
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I have been completely struck by the depth of history in London, having read so many books set here throughout the centuries, it really is something to see it and experience it all first hand. If I was blown away at what I like to refer to as ‘living history’ in the states, London really has upped the ante considerably. Every now and then I find myself just having to stop, and take a deep breath, and remember this is all for real, as I see the beautifully intricate buildings/architecture/monuments/landmarks that are surviving relics of the past.
Once you peel yourself away from London’s rich history into the present, it’s a city just brimming with life day and night. With the warmer weather becoming more settled it’s amazing to see Summer, and everything that comes with it, really kick into gear.
And if there’s ever any need to escape the hustle and bustle of packed tubes and busy streets, again those green parks dotted right across the grid really offer an opportunity to forget you’re even in a city. For a Kiwi it’s amazing how much those green spaces are needed to help re-energise you sometimes, the beautiful secret gardens are for me an example of city planning at it’s best.
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I’ve split my time so far between London and Bristol where my brother and his family are currently living. And when the weather has allowed for it, it’s offered a good opportunity to explore a bit of the South West of England.
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All in the company of a very adorable tiny sidekick, my niece Emily-Jane who I’ve been taking care of for a couple of weeks.
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With Bristol quite a hilly city, pushing this wee tiny human up and down the streets has turned into quite the work out, and given all I seem to have been doing in London is eating and drinking it’s a pretty good thing!!!! Especially given the food theme has definitely continued here in Bristol. With my big brother being quite the chef and food critic, it’s forced me to explore and develop my own culinary skills a little! Inspired by some deliciously delightful Michelin Star Gastro Pubs he has kindly treated me to, I’ve definitely been upping my game in the kitchen department under his watchful eye. And this is what I’m trying to keep up with:
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His prawn and scallop ravioli was mouth wateringly good!
Completely obsessed with the latest television series of Great British Menu, which has seen phenomenal UK chefs create menus inspired by the D Day landings, we’ve decided to head to Normandy to visit such significant historical locations for ourselves. And no doubt indulge in plenty of the French cuisine that’ll be on offer – I can’t wait.

San Francisco

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I definitely wasn’t wearing flowers in my hair when I visited San Francisco, the rain and wind would’ve dealt swiftly to them if I was, but I think it says a lot about a city when you can visit it during the worst weather ever, and still come away feeling like you wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

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We were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of sunny California on the afternoon that we first arrived, so we took the opportunity to stroll around the central city and check out what the cookies were saying about our fortunes in China Town.

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From then on though it was bone chilling wind and rain for the rest of our trip, and like I told the locals who felt the need to apologise on the city’s behalf, growing up in Wellington meant I was well prepared for the climate.

Despite the many moods of San Francisco’s weather we still managed to accomplish everything we set out to do there, including of course a trip to Alcatraz. Personally I think the moody sky added to what was a fantastic experience. I had very low expectations for visiting a prison (it was more a Mike thing to do), and was so surprised by how much I enjoyed the amazing audio tour that gave such an insight to life in Alcatraz. With my new found enthusiasm for the jail Mike’s now made a list of all the movies he wants to re-watch with me when I get home!

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When we arrived back at Fishermans Warf we were caught in the biggest deluge ever, raindrops the sizes of water balloons started falling from the sky and left us soaked through. So naturally we ducked into a tiny restaurant to feast on clam chowder and hot coffee. I know I shouldn’t say this being from a coffee snob country like New Zealand and all, but there’s something about bottomless filter coffee and cream when you’re in the States, it just comes with the territory.

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It of course also made for the perfect weather for one of my other new found loves, Irish Coffee at the mighty Buena Vista.

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One of the things the weather did make me feel pretty disappointed about was the fact that we weren’t going to be able to bike over the Golden Gate Bridge, as it was one of the things I had most been looking forward to. Given how unpredictable the weather was being, we decided to get on a Hop On Hop Off bus tour that’d at least drive us over the bridge to the very beautiful Sausalito. I didn’t feel totally at peace with the decision and clearly some kind of higher power knew it, as just before our hilarious bus driver was about to hit the bridge, he stopped the bus on the side of the road to give the most passionate speech about how, despite the rain and freezing temperatures, we MUST get off his bus and walk across the  Bridge or regret the decision to opt to stay dry and warm for the rest of our life times. Despite the vigor of his speech, Mike and I were the only ones to get off his bus, but man am I SO glad we did!! And despite having a precautionary bag full of ponchos, it didn’t rain on us once!

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Despite it being hideously expensive, and often actually quicker to walk, I rode the trams as much as I could! After years of watching Full House it really would’ve been rude not to.

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San Francisco really was the perfect start to our American adventure.

Washington DC

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Having just devoured the second season of Huse of Cards before we left NZ I was pretty excited to get to see what DC had to offer, but didn’t expect to be quite as captivated and blown away by the capital city as I was. Again, just being able to see with my very own eyes such well known landmarks, and to really be able to see history alive in front of me was a pretty great feeling.

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I thought we’d covered a lot of ground walking in NYC, but it turned out to be nothing in comparison. The  beautifully warm (bordering on stinking hot, I don’t know how people in DC cope in Summer) Spring weather was incredibly beautiful, and arriving just as the cherry blossoms were on full bloom we decided to pound the pavement every step of the way (thank god for sneakers!!)
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The day we explored the National Mall was probably one of the most memorable days of my trip so far. We happened to be there on the same day as a group of World War Two veterans from Austin, Texas. After all this time it was their first visit to the monuments and memorials, many of which celebrated and remembered the sacrifice and efforts of them and their fellow vets. At the women’s memorial we met a World War Two nurse who thanked us for caring enough to visit, it was a pretty humbling experience.
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The Martin Luther King memorial only opened in 2011, and I’d have to say it was one of my favourites, surrounded by blooming cherry blossoms it was pretty inspiring. With the images of  MLK’s I have A Dream speech fresh in my mind, walking along the reflection pool to the Lincoln Memorial was also quite a magic moment.
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I think our whole DC experience was definitely all the richer for our timing with the cherry blossoms. The trees are only in peak bloom for a few days of the year and I was worried we would miss them. But in the end we hit it perfectly and I got lost in the amazing-ness of the flowers. I think I took about a million photos of them, but nothing quite compares to actually being in amongst them all.
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Of course, like everywhere, we weren’t alone in our admiration for the flowers, with the cherry blossom festival in full swing, I felt like the whole world had joined us in DC that weekend. But we were extremely lucky to have made two new wonderfully amazing friends at the wedding in Phoenix who helped us escape the craziness of the National Mall and see some that were tucked away in their neighbourhood – so beautiful.
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Dara and Eby were also responsible for redefining what we know as BBQ food. When they asked if we’d be keen on BBQ for dinner, I expected a barbie of sausages and chops. But no, in the good old U S of A this is what BBQ food means:
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Ribs, spicy sausages, pulled pork, jalapeños wrapped in bacon, all with a side of grits and mashed potatoes. Sure it might look like a heart attack on a plate but oh my it was delicious!!!!!
The next night when we couldn’t decide where to dine out, we decided dining in might be a better option. So we grabbed some city bikes and like some kind of very tame bike gang (I was very concerned it was legal to ride without helmets) we hooned through town, back to their apartment. And after nearly two weeks of restaurant eating it was so nice to relax with some wine in someone’s home. I’m sure I would’ve loved DC no matter what, but Dara and Eby made us feel so much more at home in the city, in fact I’m pretty sure I left a tiny bit of my heart right there with them.
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Unfortunately we didn’t have time to make it to many of the incredible Smithsonian Museums. We had a look around the Natural History and the Space and Air museums, but all of those places you could literally devote hours to. One place we did spend quite a bit of time however was the Newseum. While it’s not free  it’s definitely worth the price you pay, exploring news and journalism through historical events it was a must do for us. Plus it had an Anchor Man exhibit, and an interactive area where they had a green screen and auto-cue so you could pretend to be a reporter which was a little bit hilarious!
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One of the things I love most about America is how excited people get when they hear you’re from New Zealand, and DC was no exception. You’d think sometimes you were the first Kiwi to ever visit there. There were some seriously hard core looking police officers at Capitol Hill who broke out into buckets of smiles and laughter when they learned where we were from.  14 years later one of them still couldn’t quite get over how amazing it was that a place called Gisborne in New Zealand was the first place in the world to ring in the millennium. Gotta love being a Kiwi!
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It’s hard to find the words to express how much I loved this place, I’m already trying to plot how I might be able to get back there!