The Final Chapter

Okay, so I thought it was a long time between blog posts last time but this has been longer. Sorry. We are now back home so I better finish off the trip now before I go back to work on Monday or I will never finish.

Where was I? Belfast. The day before we left Belfast, Aunty Yvonne, Carol, Alasdair, their 2 girls Sophie and Lara and Aaron and I went for a drive up to the North Coast of Northern Ireland. Our first stop was the Giants Causeway, the geographical wonder of hexagonal basalt rocks and the coldest place we encountered on our trip. Last time I was at the Causeway I wimped out and caught the bus back to the top. This time I was determined I was going to walk it. Which we did. Not just back up the same path, but up a hundred a something steps up to the cliff top (and steps are not usually my thing). The view was amazing and it was then that we encountered the first of our rain for the day. After a blitz through the souvenir shop it was onto the town of Bushmills for lunch in a nice cafe called 1608. We then drove onto Port Stewart where we stopped for ice cream at Morelli's. Even though we were still full from lunch Aaron & I just had to have Knickerbocker Glory's. I'm so glad we did, and as Aunty Yvonne once said 'the ice cream just melts and falls between the cracks in your stomach'.

The next morning after packing up our stuff and saying goodbye to the rellies, we headed down to Dublin by train where we were picked up by our friends Kathy, Brian and their son Paul and taken to there lovely house in Maynooth, outside of Dublin. It was great to catch up with them again and so nice of them top put us up for a few days.

We then spent the next few days exploring Dublin and getting to know the Irish train system, where trains can suddenly disappear from departure boards with no warning or explanation. Our whirlwind tour of Dublin included, the National Museum, the National Library, Trinity College and the Book of Kells, the very interesting Archbishop Marsh's Library (where Librarians are known as Keepers) and of course the Guinness Brewery. Despite me not having an interest in beer or stout it was an interesting morning. I tried so hard to drink all of my free pint in the Gravity Bar but I could only manage about 2 thirds. I can't understand why people like the stuff. Oh well.

That night was Halloween and I don't know who was more excited, the trick or treaters that came to the door or Aaron. It certainly brought out the big kid in him. Lots of lollies, candy or sweeties (whatever you prefer to call it) was definitely consumed that night.

The next day we had one of our earliest starts of the trip so that we could get a lift to Dublin with Brian. We then caught a bus out to the airport to wait for our flight to London, which was delayed (as was most of our flights. Do any flights ever leave on time?). After the flight, then a train ride, then a tube ride, and a short walk we made it to our friend Dave's place in Central London (NW1) where we then spent the next week spread out all over Dave's small one bedroom flat.

I love London and on our first walk around the city that night around Picadilly, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden, Oxford Street and Regent Street I couldn't stop smiling. Dave's two finger Japanese style photo pose added to the fun of the night as did Aaron's singing which by now I am used to but irritated Dave in under 3 hours.

I will now condense the next 6 days activities as the post is already very long. Things we did and saw:
  • Visited Harrods twice (and bought more bears)
  • Went to the Tower of London and saw the Beefeaters and the Crown Jewels
  • Shopped at Hamley's toy store on Regent Street (more bears)
  • Visited the British Library
  • Saw an exhibition about China's Terracotta Warriors at the British Library
  • Saw fireworks at Battersea Park for Guy Fawkes (where Aaron wore a scarf for the first time in his life and also had a hole put in his jumper from a wayward firework let off by kids)
  • Saw lots of squirrels in Hyde Park (and they were much tamer than their other European counterparts)
  • Saw several Princess Diana memorials
  • Saw Buckingham Palace, St Paul's Cathedral Regents Park, Kensington Gardens among other famous sites
  • Went on the London Eye (not as scary as I expected for someone who ates heights)
  • Went on a day trip to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath; and
  • Met more of Aaron's relatives and a couple of his friends as well
From London we headed back to Paris on the Eurostar. If it had of been 5 days later we would have left from the brand new station at St Pancras that the Queen officially opened (and the journey would have been 20 minutes shorter) but instead we had to contend with Waterloo station (and I had to put up with Aaron singing ABBA songs). Our Paris hotel was conveniently located across the road from the train station and had very nice staff, despite the fact that the wall paper and the corridors to our room made it feel like we were in a maze we might never get out of. After wondering around the shopping area of Paris that has 2 big department stores we went back to our hotel to freshen up for dinner. We went to a restaurant recommended to us by our hotel staff and the food was delicious, even though the restaurant was a little cramped. We finally got to eat escargot. I have eaten them before but it was Aaron's first try. The verdict - he wished we had both ordered them instead of just sharing one plate.

The next day, our last in Europe, began with a breakfast of as many croissants and pain au raisins as we could stomach, before venturing to the Montmartre and Pigale areas of Paris. Our visit into the Sacre Coeur was our first visit to a basilica where a service was in progress, complete with choral singing. It was a slightly odd experience. We then managed to avoid having our portrait drawn by the many artists in the streets before heading to the red light district of Pigale where we saw the Moulin Rouge. After a quick stroll down Avenue Rachel and a look around the MontMartre Cemetary we headed back to the hotel to collect our bags before heading out to Charles De Gaulle Airport by train. We got to the airport so early that we were unable to check in for our flight for almost an hour. We then spent another 3 hours in the most boring of airport terminals before boarding another delayed flight to Dubai and Singapore.

We arrived in Singapore, went straight to our hotel, showered and went to bed. The next morning we headed to the Singapore Zoo which I thoroughly enjoyed, despite coming too close for my liking to a few animals including a lemur (well its tail anyway). Their collection of primates is impressive. We also added elephants to our modes of transportation taken on this trip by having a ride on a lovely big elephant called ?. I have no idea of his name, although Aaron called him Lumpy. We spent the afternoon having a look at the shopping centres on Orchard Road before a welcome dip in the hotel pool. That night we headed out on a Night tour which included dinner down by the river, a river cruise on a bum boat, a visit to the Royal Selangor pewter workshop, a visit to the Bugis Markets and a stop at Raffles Hotel where Aaron and I experienced Singapore Slings in the Long Bar (and paid for the privilege). The next morning after sleeping passed the alarm, we awoke to rain for the first time in quite awhile. We still ventured out to Chinatown (by taxi) where it poured down. A quick trip on the MRT had us back at our hotel packing up and checking out before heading to the airport for the final time ( I love late check out). This time, again despite being incredibly early for our flight we were able to check in and we then spent the next 1 1/2 hours watching television in the departure lounge before doing some last minute shopping only to sit and wait at the gate for another delayed flight.

7 hours later (and no sleep by me) we arrived at Brisbane Airport and made it through Customs without any problems. After arriving home and unpacking we began the souvenir sort which covered the entire dining room table. If only we had more luggage space we could have brought back so much more.

So that is then end of our European Adventure. I hoped you enjoyed reading about our antics. I will most likely continue to ramble on this blog in the future (but with much shorter posts) as i am going back to uni next year to study Information Architecture. Why? Just for something to do.

It's Finally Raining

We have been in Belfast for a week now and today is the first day of rain. All of Aaron's wishful thinking that we were going to bring the sunshine with us worked, until now.

It has been a while since I have updated this blog. I didn't realise quite a long until I just logged on.

After our short stay in Siena, in the lovely Tuscan hills, we caught the train back to Florence and then onto Venice. Our trip on the Eurostar Italia was very nice and the time flew as we were talking to a very interesting lady from San Francisco who was sitting next to me. Aaron was definitely impressed with Venice when we arrived. I almost got sick of him pointing out all of the boats to me. He was just like a big kid. Our hotel was basic and had no lift which meant 2 flights of stairs each time we wanted to go to our room, but it was easy to find and although on a main street was not very noisy at night. We spent most of our time in Venice just wandering around the street, I mean canals, which was very easy to do. We did catch a boat to the island of Murano which is the home of the glass blowing. There was so many nice glass pieces we would have loved to buy but didn't for fear of not getting them home in one piece. The glass Christmas trees were amazing. We did buy a few small pieces which we think we will be able to bring home without breaking which is good. Oh, and we did go on a gondola ride, which was lovely but very very expensive. We almost had to sell one of Aaron's kidneys to pay for it. (Only joking. The budget is going fine, we are surprisingly under budget. More money for shopping in Paris and Singapore, yeaahhh).

After our 3 nights in Venice we ventured onto Bergamo, near Milan, a city we knew absolutely nothing about except that it has an airport. We were pleasantly surprised by our nice a place it was. It has a charming old town up on a hill which required a ride on a funicular railway to get to. Our 3rd funicular for the trip. We spent a lovely few hours wandering around up there enjoying the views and our last gelato. We made a surprising discovery for dinner of a cute restaurant that served free champagne on arrival and limoncello after dinner. We politely refused the limoncello after our introduction to the horrible liqueur at Jane and Alessandro's in Bologna. The food was delicious and the service was great (and not too expensive either).

The next day, after a few hours wait at the airport (no the plane was delayed it was just us getting there early) we boarded a Jet 2 plane (an airline I knew nothing about but was cheap) with a large number of elderly Northern Irelanders who were returning to Belfast after a package tour of Italy. Hearing all their accents was like being surrounded by hundreds of Aunty Yvonne's (Aaron's aunt). The flight was okay and we made it to Belfast alright. After interrogation by passport control, which didn't take long as we were the only 2 none EU passport holders on the flight we collected our bags and met Aunty Yvonne and her daughter Carol who kindly picked us up from the airport. We have spent the last week in the loving care of Yvonne and her husband Desmond, who have not only cooked for us, but has done washing for us and has driven us around. Well except for Monday when they kicked us out and made us catch the bus into the city. This week as been really nice and relaxing. We sleep in, watch TV (I am loving my English television, East Enders, Emmerdale, Coronation Street, The Bill, Top Gear, you name it I have watched it), go out for a bit, come back, watch more TV, use the Internet, eat, watch TV, sleep. It has been great. We have seen some sights though, don't get me wrong we are not spending all our time at home. We have visited Belfast Castle, Stormont (the parliament house) the city centre (including the oldest library in Belfast) and W5 (an interactive sciencecentre). Today we caused mass truancy among all of Aunty Yvonne's grandchildren when we all went to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. Well, only the transport museum as it is raining and this part is undercover. It was a fun museum to visit as you could climb onto some the the trains and things and it was especially fun going with Kathryn, Brett, Corey, Sophie and Lara, not too mention Carol and Anita (their mums) and Aunty Yvonne of course. It also included a Titanic Exhibition (as the Titanic was built in Belfast) and a Flight Experience thing which was like you were in a small plane.

Tonight we are having dinner with Aaron's Uncle Brian and Aunt Dorothy and tomorrow night with all those we spent today with at Carol's house. It has been really good getting to know Aaron's relatives. They are all so funny.

We then head off to Dublin on Monday and London on Thursday. I can't believe our trip is almost over and I will be back at work in less than a month.

Comings and Goings

I realised that in my last post I forgot to give an update of our itinerary since we had left Italy fairly open.

As mentioned before, we spent a few days in Bologna with friends, then we headed to Florence for 3 nights. We are now in Siena, (still in the Tuscany region) and will be here until Monday 15th. We then we head off to Venice for 3 nights before spending our final night in Italy in Bergamo (outside of Milan). It is from here that we fly off to Belfast on Friday 19th.

I am currently standing in the lobby of our cute hotel in Siena, yet again free internet but I have no shoes or socks on and the tiles are getting cold so I don't think I will be here for much longer.

So here is a quick update. In Florence we went to the Uffizi Gallery (and queued for an hour) and saw Botticelli's Birth of Venus, the Galleria dell 'Academia where we saw Michelangelo's real statue of David, the Gallerie Michelangelo where we saw models made from Leonardo da Vinci's drawings (and got to play with some of them) and for something completely different (and non-religious) the Criminal Museum with a display about serial killers from all over the world dating back to the 14th century. As well as the Duomo (more impressive on the outside that the inside) and the Ponte Vecchio and ate the obligatory gelato.

Yesterday we arrived in Siena around lunch time and the first thing we did after checking into our hotel was eat a huge very nice buffet lunch at the restaurant next door with a glass or two of vino to go with it. We then went on a tour visiting the nearby town of Montelchino and a couple of wineries to taste the local Brunello wine. The first we went to was interesting as it is experimenting with playing classical music to its vines. The second, included a wine making museum and was run by a charming 80 year old man called Mario who loves the ladies. We also tasted olive oil, prosciutto, pecorino cheese, biscotti and grappa. And Mario was very generous with his wine and everybody went home just that little bit schozzled.

Today we spent the day wandering around inside the walled city of Siena. It is a nice small wandering city, slightly hilly but not too strenuous. We also visited the Civic Museum where Aaron climbed its associated tower and the Duomo (much more impressive than Florence's) and its Crypt, Baptistery and Museum. We certainly got a fill of religious art today. Plus we went to one of the Basilica's where we saw the preserved head and thumb (don't ask me why they have her thumb) of Saint Catherine, who along with Francis of Assisi are the patron saints of Italy. That was pretty cool.

Tomorrow we are doing another tour, this time to San Gimignano where we visit yet more wineries.


Since my last post we have left Austria and we care now in our second Italian City.

On our last day in Salzburg we caught a bus to a nearby town where we then caught a cable car up to the top of Untersberg mountain. The views of Salzburg and its surrounds were fantastic. I only walked around a little bit up there but Aaron walked up another part a bit higher up. Up on the mountain we met a nice Canadian couple who we talked to for awhile. After that, we looked around Salzburg's Alstadt again before walking up a hill in the centre of town that has a monastry of the Capuchin monks on it.

The next day we headed to Innsbruck where we stayed at the closest possible hotel to that station. We didn't even have to leave the station to get to the hotel as there was a lift that took us right on up to the hotel. Very convenient. We spent that afternoon wandering around Innsbruck where we saw the Golden Roof, or Golden Awning as Aaron believes it should be called and the River Inn. The next day we caught a tram to a nearby town called Igls where we caught another cable car up another mountain. This one is called PatcsherKofel and again it had spectacular views. This time we spent a couple of hours walking around on top before heading back down again. This time it was only the 2 of us in the cable car which was great. This area has held the Winter Olympics a couple of times and in the cable car we passed over a bob sled course. Aaron wanted to have a go at bob sledding but it is only open in summer and winter. What a bummer. We then had a very nice lunch in a hotel in Igls where I have never eaten so much spinach in my life. The main course was spinach dumplings covered in cheese and served with more spinach. They were very nice though. Arnold Schwarzenegger has eaten there, as well as other famous people we didn't recognise.

On Saturday we left Innsbruck (and Austria, where there are no kangaroos) and headed to Italy. After 5 and a half hours on the train we arrived in Bologna where we raced to another train only to find it wasn't going to leave for another 20 minutes due to a strike (but not by rail workers, according to the driver we spoke to). Eventually after going and stopping and going again we made it to CastellMaggiore (or something like that) where we were picked up by friends Jane, Alessandro and 18 month old Damian. Jane grew up in the same street as Aaron In Wavell Heights. It was nice to have a semi normal life for a few days. We spent a fairly quiet Sunday, doing washing, watching a dvd, playing with Damian, before we visited a nearby ye olde town called Dozza. That evening Alessandro introduced us to some local cuisine which was very nice.

On Monday morning, Aaron and I headed into the centre of Bologna where we spent the day wandering around. We could not find a tourist information place to get a map, nor did we find any public toilets, (thank goodness for fast food restaurants) so we just wandered and wandered and wandered. Bologna is a very nice city, very red.

Yesterday afternoon, Aaron and I headed down to Florence along with Jane and Damian, who came along for the afternoon. After checking into our hotel, we then spent the afternoon wandering around the city for a few hours before saying goodbye to Jane and Damian when they caught the train back to Bologna.

Now it is Wednesday morning and we are catching up on our Internet stuff and accommodation before heading out to see the sights.

The Hills are Alive

with the sound of Aaron singing. You guessed it. We are in Salzburg. After surviving a 7 1\2 hr train journey from Prague (5 1\2 hours of sitting in a train followed by 5 minutes of frantic ´quick what platform to we go to´ when we changed trains in Landshut Germany, followed by another 2 hours hours of sitting) we made it to our small noisy hotel in Salzburg. The next morning our first outing was on a Sound of Music tour. Aaron loves this movie even more than I do (and he hasn't stopped singing the songs since we got here). The tour was good and our guide was so funny. It did shatter some of the movie myths, which I won't mention here for fear of ruining it for others (If you do want to know just email me or ask me later). We had a couple of other die hard fans on our tour which was good, and Aaron did his best to ramp up the enthusiasm. He even sung with the microphone on the bus at one stage.

After the tour, and photos by the fountain in the Mirabell Gardens (another film location) Aaron and I went up to the Hohensalzburg Fortress with one of our tour companions, a women Tash from Melbourne. We could walk up the steep path to the fortress or as we did catch a funicular railway. The fortress itself (and its museums) weren't anything really special but the views made up for it. Salzburg and its surrounds are so spectacular. Lots of photos were taken of course.

After saying farewell to Tash, Aaron and I continued to explore the old town of Salzburg or Alstadt as it is known. There is a lot of horse related statues and things in Salzburg and naturally you can go on a horse and buggy ride as you can in most European cities.

Today, we went to the Museum of Natural History which includes an aquarium, which had great fish including baby clown fish or Nemo's as they are probably more commonly referred as, and a reptile zoo. The rest of the museum was good as well, lots of minerals, stuffed birds and animals, an exhibit about water and one about space. We then did more wandering around the Alstadt and the Mirabell Garden again.

Tomorrow we are going to visit a nearby mountain and go up it in a cable car and then visit the Salzburg Zoo.

Then it is off to Innsbruck for a couple of days and then onto Italy. We are really enjoying Salzburg, Aaron has nicknamed it the place Prague should be. (We have been watching to much CNN (only as it is one of 2 or 3 English speaking tv channels we are getting not because we like it) and they have way too many ads for different countries with slogans, Cyprus`the year round island´ and Croatia ´the Mediterranean as it once was` are 2 examples).

Prague - Tick

Aaron and I can safely say we can tick Prague off the list. We have seen almost all there is to see in Prague except one thing that we did want to see but couldn't, more on that later.

On Tuesday we decided to explore the area of Prague we were already in, Nove Mesto and which we had started to do the night before. So our first stop was the Narodni Muzuem (the National Museum). This was a pleasant change to other museums we had seen as there was little or no religious artifacts. Aaron was relieved to find this as he has developed an aversion to 'Jesus on a donkey'. This museum was full of zoological (ie stuffed dead birds and animals), palentological and mineralogical stuff from not only the Czech Republic but around the world. After 2 hours inside (our time period for museums) we came out to find the blue skies had gone and the rain had set in. This was the beginning of a few days of annoying drizzly rain that has only now just gone away (hopefully).

With umbrellas in hand we continued to wander around Nove Mesto seeing sights such as the balcony from where the death of Czech Communism was pronounced in 1989 (the building is now a Marks and Spencers store), a nice little garden called the Franciscan Garden and a Cubist lamp post dating back to 1915. After a lunch of sausages we visited the Mucha Museum about the Art Nouveau artist Alphons Mucha. I enjoyed this little museum cum art gallery very much as I quite like the art nouveau style. To Aaron though it was just another museum.

The following day we caught a tram up to the Prague Castle and wandered around up there. St Vitus's Cathedral is magnificent. It has brilliant stained glass windows, including one designed by Alphons Mucha. The Old Royal Palace was disappointing. We found it very dull compared to other places we have seen. St George's Basillica was good but the Golden Lane was our favourite. It is a street of small coloured houses (which are now shops) with a medieval museum on the top floor. It was great, lots of suits of armour, swords etc and there was also the opportunity to shoot a cross bow. Aaron had a go and found it harder than he thought it would be (he only hit the target once out of five shots). The Dalibor Tower which was a former dungeon was also great as it had a number of torture instruments.

There was also a toy museum in the castle grounds which we of course had to visit. Surprisingly this toy museum had different things to the ones we saw in Nuremberg and it did have a good assortment of teddy bears. Speaking of which I forgot to mention in my last post that the teddy bear count is now up to 6. I bought one in Fussen and another Steiff bear from a Steiff shop in Nurmeberg.

After the castle we then walked across the Charles Bridge and into the Old Town Stare Mesto where we saw the very impressive Astronomical Clock.

On Thursday we decided to explore the Jewish Quarter (Josefov) but due to it being a Jewish Holiday (not sure which one) we were not able to visit the Jewish Cemetry that we wanted to (the holiday continued on Friday and has Saturday is their sabath we missed out altogether). After visiting one of the better souvenir shops where Aaron bought me a lovely bohemian crystal necklace (in most of the souvenir shops in Wencelas Square particular, you are followed 2 steps behind you by staff and are watched like a hawke) we crossed one of Prague's many bridges and went to Mala Strana (the Little Quarter). It was raining quite a bit so we just looked at a few of the lovely buildings and parks and went back to the hotel to rest.

On Friday we ventured out of Prague on a bus tour to Kutna Hora, a town about 60 minutes drive away that was important for silver mining. Our first stop of the tour was at the Church of All Saints, an ossuary that has chandeliers and things made up of the bones of 30 000 people. It was very cool and something that I had really wanted to see. For some reason I love ossuary's. This is the third one I have been to now. We then went for a walk around the town with a guide filling us in on some great history. Lunch was at a great restaurant where I have had the best dumplings I have ever had. The beef goulash was great too. Then we visited the Cathedral of St Barbara (one of only 4 cathedrals in the Czech Republic) which had really nice fresco's on the walls. It was also nice that the rain had stopped and there was some blue sky so that we could appreciate the painted glass windows of the cathedral. It was then time to head back to Prague along some of the most bumpiest roads I have ever been on. Sydney roads are nothing compared to these.

And now it is today and we went back to the Little Quarter where we caught the Funicular Railway up to the top of Petrin Park to visit the Observation Tower which is an imitation of the Eiffel Tower but at a quarter of its height. I decided not to climb to the top but Aaron did. It said it was quite windy up there so I am glad I didn't. Today we again encountered the Czechs dislike for large notes when trying to buy Aaron's ticket for the tower and so that I could visit the toilet. One thing I am getting sick of is having to pay to go to the toilet. I must admit though that this restroom attendant actually did something while I was there unlike other places I have been to where they just sit behind a counter reading a magazine or whatever.

So now the blog is up to date. We are off to Salzburg tomorrow which will take us over 7 hours. Hopefully the trains won't be crowded.

Finally, my impressions of Prague. The buildings are lovely, there is lots of churches, but there is an ugly side to the place as well. It is very touristy, so many souvenir shops and money changing places. We have encountered some friendly locals but most of them seem very grumpy, (particularly in long supermarket queues). We have also had to develop great patience in queueing as we have had to do it so often.

Good King Wencelas wen to town

Good King Wencelas wen to town... Aaron has been singing that song evey since we arrived in Prague yesterday and now it is in my head. Let's back track a bit.

Last Friday we visited Castle Neuschwanstein, mad King Ludvig II's castle in the Bavarian Alps. I have wanted to visit this place since I was a teenager and bought puzzles of it. I didn't make it there on my last trip to Europe so I was definitely determined to go there this time. What did I think of it? It was fabulous, very impressive. You weren't allowed to take photos of the inside so I made up for it by taking lots of photos of the outside as I could. Plus the location is spectacular. High on a hill. I knew I wouldn't be able to walk up the hill to the castle so we took the easy option of the bus, us and 100 others all crammed in like sardines chugging away up the hill. We did walk back down again, as well as the 4kms or so back into Fussen which was nice and flat (I checked the terrain on the taxi on the way before I committed to the walk back).

Fussen itself is a nice town. Very pretty. And the river is an amzing green colour. I am not sure what makes it that colour (but I would like to know so if anybody already knows please tell me and save me the trouble of googling it later). On the Friday night before dinner Aaron and I found a nice park to walk around and we had fun trying to take photos of the squirrels climbing in the trees. Gosh they are quick little buggers. Cute but quick.

On Saturday morning we packed up and made our way to Munich on the busiest train we had encountered so far. Lots of people, tourists and locals in national costume were heading to Oktoberfest which was just starting. As I cannot think of anything worse than being in a packed city with a bunch of drunks we quickly made our way to Nurmberg on a lovely ICE train. Nuremberg train stations is one of the biggest we have encountered so far, mainly I guess due to the attached shopping centre. We eventually found our hotel, after walking through a carpark called Nelson Mandela Square (not what we pictured in would be in our heads). It was a nice charming little place called Hotel Mozart. The owners had a little cute dog called Una ( I think) who was always quick to come and greet you as you came or went.

Nuremberg is a lovely place. It has so many museums you could easily spend a week there and not see them all. Some a bit strange though, like the wheat beer glass museum (I think that is what it was called). We did go to the German National Museum, the Toy Museum and Albert Durer House. There was also some nice looking chuches but we didn't go into to any of them, Aaron is a bit churched out.

On Monday we left Nuremberg for our longest train journey so far to Prague. We had about an hour on one train before we had to change to another at Marketredwitz (or some name like that) where Police on the train were more interested in our passports than our rail ticket. We did get another stamp in our passports though which I am happy about. I get disapointed if I get let into a country without a passport stamp. Anway, we then had to change trains at Cheb and we could definietly tell we were no longer in Western Europe. The station was very drab, but the amount of denim the locals were wearing was at least something to look at. Our train was due to leave at 12.12pm and it normally left from platform 2. They waited until 5 minutes before the departure time to announce the platform so we (plus the hords of people travelling 2nd class) and to bolt down stairs and up again to get to the platform. Then it was another mad dash to the end of the train to our 1st class cabin, where for part of the journey it was just Aaron and I. It was definitely no ICE or TGV. But we made it to Prague and the long walk up the hill to our hotel which is lovely and comfortable and inlcudes free breakfast and internet, yeah.

Today we explored Nove Mestre, the new town but as I have been hogging the Internet for nearly an hour I will leave it there for now. I have to check the weather forecast for tomorrow before going up to bed. It rained here today and I want to know if it will be continuing.

Au Revoir France Guten Tag Germany

We have left France behind for now and are now in Fussen Germany and I am battling with a non-qwerty keyboard.

After our 5 days in Paris we headed by train to Blois in the Loire Valley to find that we had just missed the only bus for the next 4 hours to Chitenay the village we were staying in for the next week. After finding out that a taxi was doable and not bank breaking we arrived in Chitenay, just after lunch on Monday, the day everything closes in town. Not that there is much there anyway.

Our hotel the Aubege de Centre, or something like that, was a very friendly hotel with great food. Each night we had the set menu of 4 courses plus hors doerves if we were lucky. The staff were lovely, and 2 of the men reminded us of Inspector Clouseau, which made us continually laugh to ourselves.

Now to the cycling. It was good. We didn´t fall off at all. There were a few hills which I walked up but all in all I was happpy with how I went. I did manage to continually bruise my legs on the pedals, get a sore butt, naturally, and cause numbness in the tips of my little finger and ring finger on my left hand. Which is still there. Oh well. Put it down to experience. We saw some fabulous chateauxs. I think Cherveny was my favourite.

After we left Chitenay, our real train travel began, and all just this week. First from Blois to Paris, then to Strasbourg, overnight there, then onto Stuttgart, to Ulm, no vacancies, so onto Geingen, home of the Steiff, back to Ulm, then to Augsburg and now to Fussen.

The Steiff museum was great. Well worth the visit. And yes I did buy some teddy bears. 4 to be exact plus a little lamb and a hippo.

Now we are in Fussen, staying at a guesthouse and going to visit Castle Neuschwanstein tomorrow.

That´s a quick update of the last week and a half. Hope all is well at home for everyone.

Auf Wiedersein

PS Please forgive any spelling errors in European names and words. I do not have my phrasebook with me.

Paris by Foot

This is day 4 in Paris, 3 of those we have spent solid sightseeing around the city by foot. I don't know the last time I did so much walking. Each night when we get back to our hotel we do our stretches so we are not so crippled for the next day. How do all the oldies (ie retired folk) cope?

Paris is fabulous. I love it. You never know what you are going to see around the corner. There are so many wonderful churches, all just as nice but obviously not as big as the Notre Dame.
We started Thursday with a vist to the Catacombes. What an amazing place, and our first introdcution to those narrow spiral staircases the Europeans seemed to love so much. Then we walked down to the River Seine, via a stop at a gourmet food market and a lovely little park for lunch. After passing the Musee D'Orsay we wandered along the Seine until we reached the Notre Dame. After visiting a public toilet and not having to pay (we tipped the rest room attendant anyway as she was friendly) we joined the masses of crowds (our first for the day) and went in to check out the mighty cathedral. We then wandered back to our hotel in the Latin Quarter passing by the Sorbonne, the Pantheon and the Luxembourg Gardens on the way. We also stumbled across a children's library which we went into and talked to the staff. They we very friendly and let me take photos inside (see an upcoming issue of the Quill newsletter for more details, hope you like the plug Helen). We went to a restaurant in the Latin Quarter for dinner and had a basic set menu which only set us back 12 euro each before crashing for the night.

On Friday, we decided to catch up with the Mona Lisa so it was off to the Louvre we went. We got there soon after opening so we didn't have to battle the crowds to see the famous painting. The whole Louvre itself is amazing. Obviously we didn't see it all, but we did see part of Napoleon's Apartments, many great sculptures and some crown jewels.

After spending the morning at the Louvre we ventured to the shopping mecca of Galeries Lafayette and more wandering around the streets. And no I didn't buy anything. The teddy bear count is still zero. Dinner was a quiet affair (McDonalds) as we were both so exhausted.

This morning, we woke up to the first blue skies we have seen in Paris and so it was off to the Eiffel Tower. After a quick phonecall home to Aaron's mum Julie to make her jealous, we joined the queues to begin the 40 minute wait to go up the tower. The views were spectacular and I am so glad it was alot warmer up there than my last visit where I saw ice on the tower. Even though I am afriad of heights there was only 1 or 2 moments when I felt scared, the rest of the time I was fine.

Our journey on foot continued to the Arc de Triumph and the Champs Elysee where we sat and had lunch while people watching. Very cool.

I then dragged Aaron into the mega Sephora (make up) store and the Virgin Mega Store where I am happy to say I picked the 2005 Eurovision Song Contest CD. This goes with my 2006 and 2007 ones I already have. I love Eurovision.

After more walking, through the Tuilerie Gardens and back along the Seine to our hotel my legs and feet were had it. Though after half an hour of stretching and having my legs in the air I felt better.

Tonight's dinner was a baguette and apple pastry in the Luxembourg Gardens. Aaron has fallen in love with baguettes so we have been eating them every opportunity we get. Only a week more of this before we move on to sausages and schnitzel in Germany.

Tomorrow we are having a quiet day, sticking to the Latin Quarter as we head down to the Loire Valley on Monday to begin our cycling tour. I can't believe we have only had 6 days of our trip so far. We have seen and done so much and not thought about work at all, well not in any real depth anyway.

Au reviour

Dubai Done and Dusted

Well Aaron and I have been and one Dubai and are now in Paris. Dubai was a very interesting place but very very hot. We learnt 2 lessons while we were there. 1. Do not go out walking in the middle of the day and 2. Aaron's stomach does not handle curry very well.

Our flights weren't too bad, the landing into Singapore could have been better. We only gave the pilot a 6/10 for his effort. The flight was packed so there was no spare seats around us. I had Aaron on one side and David a nice man from Lismore on the other. I didn't sleep much, Aaron got more than me. For some reason I can sleep on a Brisbane City Council bus in Brisbane going home from work but not on an aeroplane. We had an hours sopt in Siingapore but didn't get off the plane, we just stood up and walked around while the plane was cleaned around us. I can't complain about the food on Emirates, there is plenty of it. I slept a bit on the flight to Dubai but not enough to prevent me from fading in the early evening.

After waiting about 3 hours for our hotel room (we were supposed to have 24 hour check in) we freshened up and then learnt lesson number 1. It was so hot outside, after we walked down to Dubai Creek and caught a water taxi over to Deira, I couldn't walk much further as I started to feel sick. We then turned around and walked straight back to the hotel after stopping for a few minutes in an airconditioned shop where I just sat on a pile of rugs while Aaron looked around.

The Sundowner Dune tour we went on that night was great. We were in a fwd and went up and down the dunes with a few stops outside to have sand blown in out faces. The people in our fwd (of about 36) were always the first to get back into the vehicle out our stops. Then we went and had a camel ride before having dinner at a campsite and watching a belly dancer. You could also get henna tattoos but as I was very very tired I didn't do much but sit and try not to fall asleep, (which I did in the fwd back to the hotel).

The next day was a bit cooler so Aaron and I picked up an Iranian driver from the streets who took us to see the Burj Al Arab and then to the Mall of the Emirates, a huge shopping centre that has a ski field inside. After a nap back at the hotel, we headed back to the souks in Deira that we attempted to see the day before. We spent a few hours wandering up and down alley ways but did n't manage to find the gold souk. 350 stores devoted to gold and we couldn't find them. We did go to the public library though.

Our flight to Paris left early the next day so we had a quiet night in the hotel.

And now we are in Paris and my internet is about to run out so that's all for today.

I'm so excited.

I felt like a little kid at Christmas today at lunch time when I picked up our travel documents from the travel agent. I couldn't wait to get back and have a look at everything, especially the Eurail timetable. I love reading stuff normal people don't find exciting like maps, phone books and street directories. I know it is weird but I love it. Each year when we get a new phone directory I always spend time checking it out. Now I'm digressing.

Back to the holiday. I can't wait. I have 2 more days of work to go (Aaron finished today) and then I am free for 11 weeks. Not that I don't love my job, I do. But I have been really looking forward to having a break. This year has just been constantly busy. More diressing, sorry.

I think I have everything under control. I have some running around to do on Friday getting stuff done like Dr's letters and prescriptions medicines, but other than that everything is all organised. We did a trial pack last Sunday. I don't think I will have to cull anything, maybe just 1 top but that's all. And I 'm way under the 20 kgs which is good. But that won't stay that way for long I'm sure, if my last trip is anything to go by. I ended up having to buy an extra sports bag and a tote bag to bring all of my stuff back in (all with no extra baggage charges). But I have told myself I will be stricter on buying souveniers this time, and maybe teddy bears as well (23 was a bit excessive for a 9 week holiday).

I never know how to end blog posts. I always had trouble with diaries as well. It feels weird to me. I am digressing again, sorry.

Final Stages

With only 18 days to go before we leave, Aaron and I did some more trip planning today. We discussed the big issue of money. Who's money we would put where and how we would access it while we are away. We are ditching the travellers cheques and sticking to plastic, with a little bit of currency for when we first get to a country. As I have only ever travelled by myself before and the fact that we still have separate bank accounts, the whole money thing is going to be interesting. Not that I care if I end up paying slightly more than Aaron in the end. Afterall, I don't have a mortgage like he does so I have saved slightly more. I have left the budget in Aaron's hands so at least at the end I will have some sort of idea how much I will have spent. Not like my last trip, where fours years on I still do not know how much I ended up spending.

We also discussed a packing list, and divided up last minute tasks like putting together a first aid kit (me) and getting a global mobile phone sim card (Aaron). Everything is coming together quite nicely. Our pile of travel 'stuff' on our bedroom floor is growing bigger day by day. My travel notebook is coming along nicely as well. When I travel overseas, I take a notebook which I put various tips I've read in magazines and books, places to go and see etc, along with some contact details etc. Then, with the rest of the pages I have space to write stuff in while away, eg contact details of people I meet etc, and it is all in the one place. Just like hundreds of post-it notes and lists all in the one place.

I am now going to go and investigate Feedburner so that people can put RSS feeds from this blog. This Web 2.0 thing is all just one big learning experience for me. A fun learning experience. It brings out the inner geek in me.

Four Weeks To Go

I can't believe it is only 4 weeks until Aaron & I leave on our trip. The time is going to go so fast, especially as I know I will be really busy at work. I have a few projects I have to finish before the trip and having this past week off with a dreaded cold hasn't helped that. At least I got sick now and not just before we leave. Most of our planning is done, and stuff bought that we need. I have my to do list and packing list written already so I will be fine with all that stuff. I am getting to that I can't believe we are really going stage. Afterall we have been saving and planning for this trip since about November 2005. Now for the itinerary.

2 Sept - Depart Brisbane
3 Sept - Arrive Dubai (2 nights), Go on Sundowner Dune Tour
5 Sept - Depart Dubai, Arrive Paris (5 nights)
10 Sept - Depart Paris, Start Cycling Tour in Loire Valley (7 nights)
17 Sept - Finish Cycling Tour, Travel by train to Strasbourg (1 night)
18 Sept - Train to Ulm, Germany (2 nights), visit Steiff Museum in Giengen
20 Sept - Train to Fussen, Germany (2 nights), visit Castle Neuschwanstein
22 Sept - Train to Nuremberg (2 nights)
24 Sept - Train to Prague (6 nights)
30 Sept - Train to Salzburg (4 nights), definitely doing a Sound of Music tour
4 Oct - Train to Innsbruck (2 nights)
6 Oct - Train to Bologna (13 nights Italy)
19 Oct - Fly from Milan-Bergamo to Belfast (13 nights Ireland)
1 Nov - Fly from Dublin to London (7 nights)
8 Nov - Eurostar to Paris (1 night)
9 Nov - Depart Paris
10 Nov - Arrive Singapore (2 nights)
12 Nov - Depart Singapore
13 Nov - Arrive Brisbane

So far we haven't worked out exactly what we are going to do in Italy except go to Bologna, Venice, Florence and Perugia (for the Eurochocolate 2007 Festival). We will be staying with friends in Bologna so when we get there we will work out what we are doing.

The same goes for Ireland. We will be staying with Aaron's relatives in Belfast and doing the rellie thing there and then staying with other friends in Dublin and the rest we will work out later.

If anybody has any must see or do things in any of those places let me know. I'd love to hear from you.

Must go and help prepare for Aaron's Big Birthday Bonanza Brunch tomorrow (the boy turned 30th on Thursday). I have raspberry and white chocolate muffins and banana bread to make.

Information Overload

I am suffering from information overload at the moment. One of the last few things my partner Aaron & I have left to organise for our trip is our hotels for our 2 stopovers, Dubai on the way and Singapore on the way back. Singapore was simple, Aaron has been there before, the hotel he stayed at was good, so that's where we will stay this time (bearing availability in mind of course). But Dubai on the other hand is a different story. Plus it is so different from anywhere I have ever been before. I usually prefer to get recommendations from friends and family but I haven't had much getting these, so as the good Librarian I am I turned to the Internet. Now I am so overwhelmed with information and reviews I am hoping the travel agent can assist before I go to crazy.

Apart from the hotel information overload, I also suffered from a bit of anxiety at the start of the trip planning by reading too many horror stories from the Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree Forum. If hadn't already travelled overseas before without any hassles (all I lost was some deodorant, and that was in my hotel room) I could have been scared off travelling altogether.

Before I make everybody jealous with our itinerary (or bore people to death) I thought I would share a few of my favourites websites I have come across in my trip planning (and I say my planning and not ours, as I have done most of it. Aaron is in charge of the budget though).

Firstly for budget flight options I love Which Budget. Using this site I was able to find a cheap flight from Milan (well near Milan) to Belfast for under $100 Australian for the 2 of us. I have never heard of the airline (Jet 2) but we will deal with that later.

For accommodation I have be using Trip Advisor,, Hostelling International, and For our trip we will using a range of accommodation options, hotels, hostels (double rooms only - Aaron's stipulation) and the best (and cheapest option) friends and family. We are lucky that Aaron has family in Belfast and friends that have decided to live in all parts of the world including Dublin, Bologna and London.

Another accommodation website I have only just found but one which is looking very useful (and is aptly named) is EuroCheapo. The part I really like is the Expect to Spend section which give you an overview of hotel and restaurant prices as well as other handy tips.

I will finish this post now before everybody else suffers from information overload and anyway, The Bill is on soon (one of my TV weaknesses, I just love it).

Numero Uno

Well I have finally done it. I have now joined the ranks of millions around the world who blog. I have been thinking of starting a blog for awhile now but wasn't sure a) what to write about and b) if anybody would want to read it and of course c) would I be able to maintain it. So why I have I started. My partner Aaron and I are soon to commence a 10 1/2 week European holiday and I thought this would be the easiest way of sharing the experience with my friends and family. I will talk more about the trip later. First I thought I would share my experience in setting up my blog.

Once I decided to start a blog, I then had to think of a name. I have trouble thinking of names at the best of times, let alone one that I would be happy to be as a label for my thoughts and feelings. I thought Rachel's Ramblings was quite apt so I did what every good Librarian would do and googled it. Of course there was already several other Rachel's Ramblings in existence. How naive of me to think there wouldn't be? Anyway, after some thought I decided what the heck I'll use the name too. Afterall, I am not going to discuss knitting or horses like some of the other Rachel's Ramblings. That was the easy part. Trying to create a unique URL proved a challenge. In the end I settled on my initials and rambling. Hopefully easy enough for people to remember.

So there you have it. My first post on my first blog. Easy.