Browsed by
Tag: Travelator Diaries

The Travelator Diaries: Roadtrippin’ Germany, Czech Republic and Austria

The Travelator Diaries: Roadtrippin’ Germany, Czech Republic and Austria

We are sharing our personal travel diaries! We started keeping these so our family and friends could keep up with our travels, and get some laughs at our expense. Here is our entry for our European road trip with my brother and his girlfriend, who we travelled with in December 2016.

After waiting 11 long months, the time had finally come. Ross and Chelsea arrived in Germany – woo hoo! KG’s brother and his girlfriend flew all the way from Australia to spend Christmas with us in Europe.

Europe Road Trip
Group selfie!

We met in Munich, Germany. We had arrived at the hostel late, due to an uncharacteristic delay on a German train from Italy. Surprise surprise – Ross and Chels were napping. Katherine and her family come from a long line of nappers, and this holiday was to be no exception.

We spent three days in Munich learning about beer, pork knuckles and a bit of history. The weather was poo (as predicted) but we battled on. After a couple of days, we picked up our fancy new hire car. With a devilishly handsome smile from Tom, we even managed a free upgrade to a fancy Audi A6. This beast ensured that we were able to make the most of Germany’s (in)famous autobahns, where there is absolutely no speed limit! That’s right folks – 200 km/hr is perfectly legal.

Munich Germay
A rare blue sky behind Marienplatz in Munich

We headed off to Prague via Regensberg. We actually had no idea whether there was anything worth seeing in Regensberg, but it turns out there was a huge cathedral that was very impressive. We also found some metre long sausages at the Christmas market, so it was a big tick of approval from us.

In Prague we attempted to book on a segway tour, only to discover that segways had been banned in the city centre. We resolved to try again later in the trip, as we all fancied ourselves as pretty awesome segway drivers. Instead, we huffed and puffed our way up to Prague Castle on foot like peasants. The changing of the guard was fun, then we wandered back down to the old town to check out the great Christmas markets.

Prague Castle
The view of Prague Castle
Prague Czech Republic
Anyone interested in watching the changing of the guard at Prague Castle? Anyone?
Prague Czech Republic
Discussing the finer points of changing guard at castles

We also went out to dinner at an Italian restaurant where Chels attempted to order her first Bailey’s and milk. Now, this is a tried and true old lady drink in Australia. However, the phenomenon has clearly yet to hit Europe. When she asked for milk, the restaurant owner looked at her in horror and exclaimed, ‘MILK?! In 45 years I have NEVER heard of Bailey’s with MILK!’. He served her the drink with some disgust but also plenty of good humour.

Next we were off to Berlin via the Bone Church. There are over 45,000 bodies buried in the Bone Church, where the bones are laid out as decorations around the church. There were some pretty fascinating skulls which showed injuries some poor sods had suffered during the Hussite Wars.

Kutna Hora
Church decorated with bones in the Czech Republic

Once in Berlin, we attempted to learn more about the Cold War and the Berlin War on a walking tour. However, we soon realised that the assumed knowledge level for this excursion was well above ours. We basically walked around in the cold feeling rather confused for three hours, but did see where Michael Jackson hung his baby out of the hotel window. We also visited plenty of Christmas markets (including a ride on the ferris wheel) and tried our hand (or is it feet?) at ice skating.

Berlin Germany
Ross having second thoughts about agreeing to a ride on the ferris wheel
Berlin Brandenberg Gates
Group shot in front of Brandenberg Gates
Berlin Bagels
Tom lining up for a mobile bagel
Berlin Ice Skating
Ross and Chels showing off their ice skating skillz

Next we were off to Dresden. Dresden was absolutely flattened in the dying days of World War II so it was fascinating to see how well they had rebuilt the old city. We stayed in a great AirBnB apartment with a cat who was intent on giving Ross hayfever, and a rather obese pet rabbit.

Dresden Germany
This was built for some bloke’s orange trees. No joke!
Dresden Christmas Market
Enjoying a gluhwein at the Dresden Christmas Market… with an elf (?)

Our next stop was Fussen, where we finally saw snow and visited the ‘Disney Castle’. The Disney Castle is actually called Neuschwanstein Castle, but honestly, who can pronounce that?! It was very picturesque and we got some great photos from the bridge beside the castle, although I’m pretty sure it hasn’t been maintained since the 1800s. KG and Ross stayed close to land in case the whole thing snapped in half.

Fussen Germany
SNOW!!
Fussen neuschwanstein castle
A great view of Neuschwanstein Castle. Have a go at saying Neuschwanstein too… there’s no chance you’ll get it right!

Then we were off to Wattensberg (near Innsbruck) in Austria for Christmas. We had booked an amazing apartment in the Alps, but as luck would have it, it was unseasonably warm and there was no snow. Never fear, we headed off to a nearby mountain to find a patch of snow we could ski on. Chels and I were absolute beginners, so we got an ex-pro skiier to teach us how to snow plow. We also drank plenty of rum, ate too much turkey, gave up on a puzzle and got p*ssed off at Ross for winning cards all the time.

Christmas Puzzle Austria
The Impossible Christmas Puzzle
Christmas Austria
It wouldn’t be Christmas without matching jumpers would it?
Christmas Austria
“Take the damn photo so I can drink my wine”
Christmas Austria
KG playing cards with all of her friends…

On the way back to Munich, we indulged all of our Sound of Music fangirl dreams by visiting Salzburg. OK, perhaps it was just KG and Chels that were SOM fangirls. We stopped by a few big name sights from the movie, then continued on our way.

Salzburg Sound of Music
The Sound of Music rotunda where they sang ‘I am 16 going on 17…’ It was great so stop laughing now!

The next day, it was sadly time to say goodbye to Ross and Chels as they headed back to Australia and we flew to Paris. Stay tuned for our post on the final week of our trip in Paris!

For our full 17-day itinerary through Germany, Czech Republic and Austria, check out our European road trip article here.

The Travelator Diaries: The Balkans

The Travelator Diaries: The Balkans

We are sharing our personal travel diaries! We started keeping these so our family and friends could keep up with our travels, and get some laughs at our expense. Here is our entry for the Balkans, where we travelled in November 2016.

After spending almost a month cruising through Armenia & Georgia it was time for us to make our way to mainland Europe. We hopped aboard the cheapest (and therefore best) flight we could find and made our way to Bucharest in Romania.

Romania

Our time in mainland Europe started in eastern European country of Romania, more specifically its ‘shabby-chic’ capital of Bucharest. We spent a few days wandering around the streets of Bucharest checking out the beautiful but neglected Soviet-era architecture and admiring how cheap everything was. Just in case anyone ever asks you, the world’s second largest government building is the Palace of Parliament in Bucharest… it’s a real quiz night classic.

Bucharest - The Palace of Parlaiment
The absurdly huge Palace of Parliament in Bucharest

Bulgaria

A few days later we hopped aboard a train and made our way to Sofia, the rather uneventful capital of Bulgaria. The distance between these two cities is a modest 360km, but for some unknown reason it took our train TEN HOURS to cover this distance – with some quick maths you can see our train was travelling at the blistering pace of 36km/h. There wasn’t a whole heap happening in Sofia, so we decided to spend our time doing things such as eating Indian food and checking some culture via the latest Marvel movie, Dr Strange.

Sofia - Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia

Once we were finished in Sofia we headed east to the much more interesting city of Plovdiv. We had 3 nights here which afforded us plenty of time to check out the beautiful old town of Plovdiv and really explore the menu at a craft beer restaurant we tracked down. After a few lazy days we also thought it was time to hire a car again and hit the open road. We ventured just outside of Plovdiv to Perperikon, an ancient fortress where Alexander the Great had a few vinos and a prophecy which told him he would conquer the world. Haven’t we all done that before. It was also in Plovdiv that we found out that the USA had for some reason elected Donald Trump to be their next President… good Lord.

Plovdiv - All We Need Is Plovediv
All we need is Plovediv – Plovdiv, Bulgaira

Macedonia

Next up was Skopje, the capital of Macedonia. We were really settling in to the being back on mainland Europe. This pretty much entailed a lot of eating, and a fair bit of drinking. We jumped on a free walking tour and checked out the eclectic capital where found out that Alexander the Great was actually Macedonian and NOT Greek… apparently (quite controversial).

It was also in Skopje that we decided to go clubbing with a group of early 20s Swedes. At the time this sounded like a marvellous idea, a bit of drinking and some dancing never hurt anyone. However, in Europe, clubs don’t open until after midnight, which is at least 4 hours past our bed time. The night can be summarised by two incidents. 12:51am – a slightly intoxicated KG asks Tom, “Why don’t we go clubbing more often?” We get home at 4am and KG announces, “I think I am dying, we are never going clubbing again!”

Skopje - KG in the rain
KG in some cracking weather conditions in Skopje
Skopje - KG inside
KG escaping the Skopje weather

After 2 days of recovering from our clubbing adventure we bussed down to the tiny lakeside of Ohrid. It is no overstatement to say that we did absolutely nothing in Ohrid. It is a beautiful little lakeside town with great restaurants and cafes, where we managed to find ourselves in an amazing little hostel. We did manage to see a few sights around Ohrid but the majority of our time was spent either eating or strolling lazily around the lake. It’s a tough gig at times.

Lake Ohrid - Church of St John at Kaneo
The Church of St John at Kaneo at Lake Ohrid
Lake Ohrid - St Naum Peacocks
Watch out for those peacocks… they’ll get ya!

Kosovo

There was a lot of deliberation as to where we would go next but we finally settled on Prizren in the tiny and brand new country of Kosovo. Now, some people (including the Australian Government and us) think Kosovo is a legitimate country, others don’t. We won’t go into details. All we will tell you is that it is home to some of the nicest people we have ever met. It is also one of the cheapest countries we have ever visited. We spent 3 nights in Prizren, strolling around the cobble stone lanes, drinking 70c espresso macchiatos and enjoying beers for $1.50 a piece. We also managed to head out on a day trip to check out the local country side and the incredibly serene Patriachate of Pec Monastery.

Kosovo - Prizren by night
Prizren by night
Kosovo - The Patriarchate of Pec
The Patriarchate of Pec in Peja, Kosovo
Kosovo - Drini i Bardhe Spring
Us by the waterfall at Drini i Bardhe Spring

Albania

We then headed across the border to Tirana, the capital of Albania. It also happened to be Tom’s 30th birthday while we were there. We threw caution (and our money) into the wind and booked a 4-star hotel for a staggering $80 per night. We also booked into one of Tirana’s nicest restaurants and after 3 courses each, a bottle of wine and a few drinks the bill came to a whopping $60. You get the idea -Tirana was dirt cheap and a great place for Tom to contemplate his upcoming retirement.

The small Albanian town of Shkoder was our next stop. We pulled in for a couple nights, climbed up a massive hill to a huge old fortress, ate some amazing BBQ and played with the two dogs at the hostel.

Albania - Mosque in Shkoder
The Mosque in Shkoder
Albania - Shkoder Fort
This photo took 4 attempts – us atop the Shkoder Fortress

We decided had been working way too hard lately (*cough*) and needed a rest from this hectic stint of our trip. We managed to get ourselves stuck in the amazing little seaside town of Kotor in Montenegro. We lazed around for a few days, exploring the winding cobble stone streets of the old town, went hiking up to the fort a couple times and generally did very little. It also helped that the hostel had a ‘stay 5 nights pay for 3’ deal that was just too good to turn down. We even paid for an extra night and stayed 6.

Slovenia

As we headed further west everything was getting slightly more ‘European’. Our next stop, Slovenia, felt as though we had arrived in Germany, only without the price tag. We spent 3 nights in the capital Ljubljana and it will go down as one of our favourite stops of the trip. We hit the streets on a walking tour, ate some decent Asian food, hiked up to the fort, checked out some street art and even squeezed in a bit of shopping. We then headed out to Bled, home of the aptly named Lake Bled. We decided to go hiking around the nearby Lake Bohinj. Unfortunately KGs new boots gave her some pretty serious blisters and that was that for hiking.

Slovenia - Ljubljana by night
Ljubljana main square by night
Slovenia - Ljubljana Fort
Not sure what happened here – a selfie from the Ljubljana Fortress
Slovenia - Minigolf in Ljubljana
KG playing minigolf in Ljublhana – we’ll let you use your imagination as to whether this went in or not…
Slovenia - Lake Bohinj
Lake Bohinj near Bled
Slovenia - Bridge at Lake Bohinj
A nice warm day at Lake Bohinj

Italy

After just over a month in the Balkans, we bussed out of Bled. We arrived in Trieste in Italy, home to our good friend Alessandro who we met in Kyrgyzstan. Alessandro took on the role of tour guide, hotel owner and driver over the next few days to show us around the sites of Trieste and his home town of Zugliano. We explore the beautiful seaside town of Trieste, checking out the amazing Miramare Castle, the “little cheese” cathedral and the Trieste fortress.

Trieste - Town Hall
Trieste Town Hall
Trieste - Tom and Alessandro
Tom & Alessandro in the main square of Trieste
Trieste - The Little Cheese
The “little cheese” – also known as the Mariano Temple of Monte Grisa
Trieste - KG and Alessandro
KG & Alessandro hiking up to theTrieste Cathedral

The 3 of us then headed out to Zugliano and stayed at Alessandro’s parent’s house for 2 nights. It was amazing. We ate a stupid amount of food, did an awful job of making gnocchi, drank too much wine and saw the surrounding area. Alessandro took us to Marostica to climb up to the fortress and then to Vincenza to visit the world’s first permanent indoor theatre. On our final day we managed to squeeze in to a quick trip to Verona and had a glance at the balcony where Juliet spoke to Romeo in the amazing story from Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 classic Romeo & Juliet. Supposedly the story wasn’t written by Baz himself, which we found hard to believe.

Zugliano - Making gnocchi
Tom & KG doing an awful job of helping Giselle (Alessandro’s Mum) make gnocchi
Zugliano - Tom and Alessando after a big lunch
Tom & Alessandro after another massive Italian lunch
Verona - Juliet's Balcony
O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?

Up next…

We said our goodbyes to Alessandro and jumped aboard a train to Germany. Awaiting for us in Munich were Katherine’s brother Ross and his girlfriend Chelsea. For the next two weeks we would be cruising around Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic together – stay tuned!

Have you visited the Balkans? What did you think? Tell us more in the comments below!

The Travelator Diaries: Armenia & Georgia

The Travelator Diaries: Armenia & Georgia

We are sharing our personal travel diaries! We started keeping these so our family and friends could keep up with our travels, and get some laughs at our expense. Here is our entry for Georgia & Armenia, covering our rather eventful road trip in October 2016.

We had just finished up 2 weeks in Iran, and while we absolutely loved it, Tom was hanging for a beer and KG was ready to rip off her hijab. We crossed the border in northern Iran, and one shifty taxi ride later, we were in Meghri, Armenia. We checked into a gorgeous little family guesthouse, and had a quick homemade vodka with the owner, then headed to a local restaurant for a beer, BBQ pork and unrestricted wifi. Luxury!

Meghri Armenia
The view over Meghri, Armenia

We caught a minibus from Meghri to Armenia’s capital, Yerevan. We were promised that we would be dropped at our hostel, but (predictably) we were dropped at a random metro stop and told to make our own way. This would normally be fine, but the Armenian language looks like spaghetti thrown at a wall so we had no friggin’ idea where we were. As it turns out, the metro is a single line and we were at the last stop, so we didn’t have too many options to choose from and found our hostel eventually.

Armenian language
The Armenian language – good luck reading this!
Noy Yerevan Brandy Factory
KG enjoying her brandy tasting at Noy Yerevan Brandy Factory… or not.

The road trip begins…

After three days in Yerevan overeating and drinking wine, we hopped in our hire car – Marcel the Nissan Micra. Marcel was everything you look for in a man – good looking, reliable and a great money saver. Unfortunately, the roads in Armenia are better suited to Toyota Landcruisers than Nissan Micra’s, and poor Marcel was regularly put through his paces.

Marcel the Micra
Marcel the Micra
Nissan Micra
Also handy for storing extra bred for feeding stray animals.

Some highlights include: running into a sheep (to be fair, we had stopped and the sheep ran into us), five closed roads, two speeding tickets (in one day) and a day of snow driving. But in addition to the shitty driving conditions were some of the most picturesque and stunning monasteries in the world, so we forgave Armenia for its terrible roads.

Noravank Monastery
Noravank Monastery
Sevanavank Monastery
Sevanavank Monastery

Entering Georgia

After about a week, we crossed the northern border of Armenia into Georgia. The roads were better, but the signage was not unfortunately. We loved our time in Georgia – we visited the huge cave city of Vardzia, hilltop monasteries and even Stalin’s hometown. Stalin was born to a poor cobbler in the small town of Gori in central Georgia. Now you can visit his childhood home, fancy train carriage and a museum about his life. The museum kind of glosses over the less appealing parts of his rule (i.e. the millions who died from famines, purges, political persecutions etc) but if you can look past this, it was quite fascinating to learn more about his personal life and family.

Cave complex of Vardzia
Cave complex of Vardzia

Next it was time for WINE! Yay! We spent four days in Georgia’s wine region of Kakheti, tasting wine and lazing around. It was also KG’s 28th birthday, so we booked ourselves into a fancy wine chateau and spa for a bit of a treat. There was also a super cute kitten (see below).

Schuchmann Chateau
Schuchmann Chateau – our digs for KG’s birthday
Georgia cats
Tom with the very cute resident kitten at Shumi Winery

We finished up our time in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. We said a sad farewell to Marcel, and by some miracle got our security deposit back. Next stop: the Balkans!

Selfie overlooking Tbilisi
Selfie overlooking Tbilisi

Have you visited the Caucasus? What did you think? Tell us more in the comments below!