DIY weekend road trip around Scotland


So going back in time and revisiting where I left off in the travel posts – in February 2014, after a ‘exciting’ week in beautiful Edinburgh, Kev and I realised that we had to figure out a way to Aberdeen to visit our friends-from-home, Siska and Robin.

DIY Road Trip around Scotland in a long weekend. Can do!
DIY Road Trip around Scotland in a long weekend? Can do!

Now, we didn’t want to fly. So we explored different options from taking a bus to hopping onto a train, to joining a tour group. We ultimately decided to DIY and drive ourselves to Aberdeen to make the most of exploring the Highlands.

The next decision was to figure out where we were to stop, as there are just so many things to see in Scotland. Kev and I had an in-joke about ‘The Mull of Kintyre’ so we both were keen on going there for the sake of saying that we’ve been there (if you look at the map, The Mull of Kintyre is at the tip of the phallic-looking landmass right where the ‘G’ of Google is so fortunately placed) – what a surprise Google!

The expectations from the road trip

After getting a little overwhelmed as to how many must-see natural wonders in Scotland, Kev and I had to sit down and knuckle out what were our essential and personal expectations from this road trip. We both wanted to go hiking and skiing in the Cairngorms, see Lochs, try out the seafood from Oban as highly recommended to us by Jenna and Brett, and we also wanted to visit the Isle of Skye as that was an absolute must as recommended by tour brochures and TripAdvisor, not to mention all the breweries and distilleries too; and we only had the weekend.

We ended up streamlining our road trip to the following – Edinburgh; Perth; Fort William; Torrin; Inverness and then to Aberdeen (no Mull of Kintyre sadly). We had forego skiing in the Caringorms and keep the itinerary lean so that we still got to spend quality time in the highlands, try seafood and see the Isle of Skye too.

So we packed our rental car 

…and said goodbye to Jenna and Brett. They were such wonderful hosts and unfortunately I don’t have a photo of both of Jenna and Brett, but here’s a photo of Kev and Brett with their own little Northern lights in the living room (thanks Gareth and Elina for recommending the Lapland application).

Kev and Brett having some bro time under the 'northern lights'
Kev and Brett having some bro time under the ‘northern lights’

We were happy to find out that we could rent a car from Edinburgh at Europecar and return it in Aberdeen at Alamo. One of the first stops on our road trip was to a little town called… Perth! Brett and Jenna advised us that there wasn’t really anything to see there and they were 100% right.

With streets named Hay, William and Barrack, Perth UK amused us with the luxury of calling out street names that we had not needed to use for 5 months.

We had a chat with the tourist information attendant who laughed when we told her we were from Perth, Western Australia. She told us that a few months back someone walked into the tourist office looking for a hotel on Hay Street, only to be horrified to find out that they had booked for the wrong Perth!

Perth in the UK
Perth in the UK

From Perth we navigated around the narrow with sharp bends of the unlit A85 and A82. The scenery disappeared with the sun and so we were pretty happy once we arrived at our overnight stay.

Finding accommodation on Airbnb in places other than the main cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen was hard as there wasn’t a lot of listings. However, we rang some of the local bed and breakfast places and booked a night at Myrtle Bank Guest House over the telephone for a great rate. Don’t be worried if the B&B’s don’t ask for a last name or credit card details when you book. They seem to be based on a honour system and when we arrived at the Myrtle Bank Guest House, ‘Kevin‘ was enough to confirm the booking and a smooth check in.

Saturday

Our drive around Scotland just kept surprising us around each and every tight corner.

The reveals were amazing.

I’m going to let the photos do the talking for the leg from Fort William to the Isle of Skye.

Overnight stay, breakfast
Our view during breakfast at Myrtle Bank Guest House.

 

A beautiful shot that I made Kev pull over for.
A beautiful shot that I made Kev pull over for.
The road before us.
The road before us.
Beautiful little streams found sporadically trickling down mountains as we drive by.
Beautiful little streams found sporadically trickling down mountains as we drive by.
It is only us and the road!
It is only us and the road!
Snow on one side, green on the other.
Snow on one side, green on the other.
Eilean Donan Castle! A wonderful surprise pit stop just before entering the Isle of Skye.
Eilean Donan Castle! A wonderful surprise pit stop just before entering the Isle of Skye.

 

Sunday

We stayed overnight at an Airbnb place in Torrin, near Portree and the Isle of Skye. Torrin is a very small town, and the house itself was located off the main road.

It was windy, it was narrow.

Drivers would politely pull over to one side of the road to let an on coming car pass by. There’s no real ‘system’ to follow. I would describe it as a civilised, polite game of chicken. Kev enjoyed this and would beam the biggest goofy smile at the guaranteed friendly wave that you would receive after pulling over, or after driving past. It did make us both feel very community minded.

Torrin - our driveway
Torrin – our driveway

We decided to spend this day hiking, and the place that captured our imagination was The Old Man of Storr. There’s just something about that name that made me want to visit it. It sounded like a place out of A Song of Ice and Fire series or from The Lord of the Rings. Reviews stated that it was a wonderful hike and that it can be a little dangerous during icey/wet conditions. Ha ha! That didn’t deter us.

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Skye Bridge. Breathtaking views all round.

The drive to The Old man of Storr was just as varied and as grandiose as the previous drives. The weather kept changing with pockets of glorious sun, followed by heavy clouds.

Old man of Storr.
The Old Man of Storr.

I just love the above photo.

This view of the famous rock formation was like a trophy being dangled before us. As we drove with that view ahead, anticipation of what we were going to achieve grew – we were going to get up that mountain and visit The Old Man of Storr.

The hike took a few hours as the trails had been covered snow. It was quite exciting and thrilling looking up at the rocks and figuring out how to get up there. At the beginning it was sunny and calm. This was the most enjoyable part of the hike for me as everything seemed to twinkle.

Slightly frosty stream.
Slightly frosty stream.

However, that soon changed. When we started ascending the steepest part of the hike, large dark clouds rolled over The Old Man of Storr, strong winds started billowing against us with shards of icy sleet. I kept looking up at the top and I could feel myself get all… whats the word? – Terrified.

Just think about those movies where someone freaks out and wants to turn back when the right decision is to keep on going. That’s who I was at that moment, while Kev was happily bounding up with not a care in the world.

I started to freak myself out, reverse vertigo, that feeling of being blown over, the fear that I’m going to die. Everything just seemed to make me spiral into this out of control fear. Though Kev was fine.

I attempted to rationalise my fear for a good period of time, taking photos and videos and anything to distract me from the huge freak out party that was happening inside. I think I did pretty well to hide too.

But eventually fear got to me and I just stopped. I stopped right in the middle of a ledge. I couldn’t move forward or backwards. I was just so scared. Poor Kev, he had no idea what was happening and asked me if I was ok.

I just ended up failing at trying to politely and calmly tell him that I couldn’t do it.

I could tell Kev did not want to stop, and I didn’t want hold him back so I said ‘just go without me’. I had that mental block. Kev told me that he would go ahead and then come back to show me the way, but as soon as he turned around, I regretted my decision to stay put. I couldn’t believe I was tapping out. This just wasn’t like me. I got extremely frustrated and angry at myself.

I ended up slowly getting up, and just focused on Kev’s back as he continued onwards to the top. So long as I ignored the wind, the sleet and my crazy thoughts about being blown off, I was able to put one foot in front of the other. Kev kept turning around to see me, and he smiled when he saw that I was cautiously following him.

I am proud to say we made it. It wasn’t the highest or toughest hike we’ve done, but it was definitely the scariest experience for me. I don’t know why. So when we got to the top, it was sweeter and it was a glorious view! The clouds passed, the winds softened and the sun came out.

I don’t doubt that I would have turned around if I were there alone, so I am forever grateful that Kev was there to keep me going and to make us get to the top.

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Kev at the top and in his element.
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…and we did.
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Kev took this magnificent panoramic shot, capturing my first sight of the view.
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Kev chilling on a rock.

The way down was a lot easier psychologically. Haha! While we were both just casually strolling along around the mid point of the hike I asked Kev

Do you want to build a snow man?

 

Kev’s eyes lit up, and he looked around at all the nice ‘damp’ snow that we had around us. We were unable to build one in Finland as the snow was dry like powder and wouldn’t stick. He then eagerly said

Yes!

And that’s how Mr McHaggis of Storr was created.

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One happy family.

It was such a fun, relaxing activity for the both of us. We were sheltered from the harsh winds and sleet that passed over, so nothing interrupted us and time flew by without us really noticing.

After playing around with Mr McHaggis of Storr, we made our way back to the car to continue on with exploring the area.

Shocking deforestation. We were told by a local that this used to be all forest and it was all cut down.
Shocking deforestation. We were told by a local that this used to be all forest and it was all cut down.

 

We decided to drive to one more spot before heading back as it was getting dark, and we drove 15 minutes more north to stop at Kilt Rock.

Kilt rock
Kilt rock

This is a nice pit stop if you are around The Old Man of Storr or if you are driving up to Quiraing or to visit the fairy pools.

So our Sunday ended on a high note and we drove back to Torrin for one more night. The next day, we gunned it through Inverness and stopped by to see if we could see the Loch Ness Monster (we were unlucky) and soon the mountains and lochs disappeared and the horizon was filled with flat green meadows. We arrived in Aberdeen on the Monday at 2pm, nice and early and in time to pick up the keys from a friend of Siska and Rob at Starbucks on Union Street.

What a weekend! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Zooming through Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris


Helloooo!

Now settled in London for the past month with our friends Anne and Jian, we have been able to slow down and think about the month of February and to appreciate that we have now been away from Perth for 6 months! (Amazing how time flies!). As such, this post will fly over our stops in Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris and my next post will be of our unforgettable time in Scotland!

For me, February was one of the more gloomier and harder parts of our trip. The European winter below the Scandinavian countries were warmer on the thermometer, but I felt the cold even more so because of the dampness. The cold, wet air weighs you down and the dampness seeps through your jackets and under your skin making it clamy. Also, it could be because by February, we had been traveling full time for 5 months straight. Though I shouldn’t complain about my life at this moment, I’ve realised that the constant running after trains, planes and new destinations does wear you out physically and mentally. That backpack which I had been streamlined to a slim 15kgs started to feel heavier than when it was 18kgs back in October 2013. Things started to look the same and lose their ‘magic’. I am put at ease with this ‘state of being’ as Chris, our roomie from the Maldives, shares the similar ‘saturation of the senses’ feeling from the prolonged state of ‘doing something new all the time’ which comes with extended travel. It is so nice to be able to compare notes with someone else who is going through the same thing, same time, but different path.

For me, the light in all this gloominess has been the wonderful old friends and new that we have met this month. These people have allowed me to stay in touch with something constant, something that hasn’t changed during this vagabond period in my life.

Since we did so much in the month of February, and I know there is a time limit to one’s attention span, I will keep this post to the highlights of each place.

Berlin, Germany

In Berlin, we did not see our Airbnb host as much, however, he was nice and friendly and helpful when he showed us into our apartment. It was in Berlin where Kev and I were so over audio guides and so I googled up ‘walking tours’ and stumbled across Sandemans free walking tours. This is one of the best tours I’ve ever been on. If you haven’t heard about Sandemans, have a look here: https://www.neweuropetours.eu

Sandemans provide walking tours in and around Europe which are approximately 3 hours long. They also provide a ‘free’ walking tour that is also around 3 hours. These tours are led by extremely fun, approachable and easy going tour-guides who absolutely love their adopted city and their job.  The free walking tour allows you to orientate yourself with the city,  and are extremely informative about the culture and history of the place. The ‘free’ part is that there is no set fee to go on the tour, but at the end of the tour, you can give the tour guide an amount that you can afford and that feel is the right value of the tour. So in a sense, if you can’t afford it, or you did not like the tour at all, you don’t need to pay them. However, since discovering Sandemans and now having attended these tours in Berlin Paris, Edinburgh and London, Kev and I have never been on a Sandemans free walking tour not worth paying. It just doesn’t do the tour guide justice for spending 3 hours our with us, keeping us entertained and being so much fun. My only regret is that we did not find out about these guys sooner and used them at the beginning of our travels!

So here are some snaps from in and around Berlin.

Australia Day in Berlin. We got to have out beloved meat pie!
Australia Day in Berlin. We got to have our beloved meat pie!
Met up with an old high school friend, Simmone. Someone who I have not seen since... well.. high school! :) We also made some friends with Margaret and ...
Australia Day celebrations at Belushi’s Bar in Berlin. With old friends and new. From left to right we have ‘Flo’, Simmone, Margaret and Ricky (a couple who offered to share their booth with us). Simmone went to the same high school as me but was in the year above. We have not met up or spoken since… well.. high school. It was only when I took a stab in the dark on Facebook and asked if there was anyone out there in Berlin, did Simmone reconnect with me! Thank you!!! It was really amazing meeting up with someone that I’ve not seen for about 13 years for Australia Day in Berlin. Funny how life turns out.
Brandenburg Gate with some tea as it was very cold on the walking tour.
Brandenburg Gate with some peppermint tea as it was very cold on the walking tour.
Beautiful Gendarmenmarkt.
Beautiful Gendarmenmarkt.
A winter's day at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
A winter’s day at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
The memorial is open for interpretation. Guess what is Kev's interpretation is?
The memorial is open for interpretation. Guess what is Kev’s interpretation is?
Feeling all connected with the world. Leaving Australia's mark here!
Feeling all connected with the world. Leaving Australia’s mark here! Oh yes, and I randomly injured my right wrist. Was not pleasant when carrying my backpack the next day.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

On the way to Paris, we stopped by in Amsterdam for 3 days. We had a happy time. 🙂

Meet Niels and Diesel. They   welcomed us to their home and showed us what the dutch do in Amsterdam. We were unable to meet Vin who I had arranged the accommodation with, but he checked in on us all the time!
Meet Niels and Diesel. They welcomed us to their home and showed us what the dutch do in Amsterdam. We were unable to meet Vin who I had arranged the accommodation with, but he checked in on us over Airbnb all the time!
Hello windmill!
Hello windmill!
Seren canals.
Serene canals.

Paris, France

The Cathedral of Notre Dame. It's been a long time since 2005 old friend. Good to see you haven't changed.
The Cathedral of Notre Dame. It’s been a long time since 2005 old friend. Good to see you haven’t changed.

Paris led us to old friends!

Firstly, Kev and I stayed with Sarah and Stephane and again took another Sandemans free walking tour to hear about how Paris remained beautiful throughout the years of war. Sarah showed us her lovely apartment and showed us how the French eat. That is, cheese and baguette… and more cheese and baguette. I was not complaining. Not complaining at all! I fell in love with the fact that around Sarah and Stephane’s place there was a boulangrie (selling baked goods), there was a fromagrie (selling all the wonderful kinds of cheeses you can think of), and a cavast (wine seller) all less than a 5 minute walk. This is apparently how it is in France. Each neighbourhood has their local boulangrie, fromagrie and cavast.  No wonder the food was amazing. I compare this concept to the Italians who also source most of their food from within a 10km radius. This truly must be the secret to good tasting food and wine that does not make you bloated and does not make you sick.

Hiii Sarah! We spent hours catching up over cheese and baguette. Sadly, I don't have a photo of Stephane but he is an amazing guy who makes Sarah laugh! :)
Hiii Sarah! We spent hours catching up over cheese and baguette.
Unfortuntely, the only photo we have of Stephane is of his back while he played his piano magnificently. He would let us play 'guess what movie soundtrack I'm playing' every night till late. It was soooo much fun!
Unfortuntely, the only photo we have of Stephane is of his back while he played his piano magnificently. He would let us play ‘guess what movie soundtrack I’m playing’ every night till late. It was soooo much fun!

Also, in Paris I was able to catch up with old, old, old friends that I met in China in 2007 when I went there to learn Mandarin. Ah…Quentin and Qiao! It was amazing seeing these two again 7 years later! These guys took us around Paris by night showing us Mont Marte, the old Moulin Rouge area and treated us to charcuterie (cold meats, cheese, pickles and bread).

Me and the boys at Moulin Rouge. Just like China days and visiting Ktv++
An awesome selfie of me and the boys at Moulin Rouge. Just like China days and visiting Ktv++

Lastly, one of the happiest and most colourful times of our trip, we made it to Euro Disney!

It's MICKEY O'CLOCK!
What time is it? It’s MICKEY O’CLOCK!
My heart burst into a million smiles when I walked up the pathway with my Frozen minnie ears towards Sleeping Beauty's castle!!!!
My heart burst into a million smiles when I walked up the pathway with my Frozen minnie ears towards Sleeping Beauty’s castle!!!!
Kev's always wanted to be a wizard.
Kev’s always wanted to be a wizard.
Kev with Wall.E and Eve!
Kev with Wall.E and Eve!
OH my goooddd it's the Frozen float!!
OH my goooddd it’s the Frozen float!!
This was the best part of our day! The music and the lights and the fireworks! WOW!
This was the best part of our day! The music and the lights and the fireworks! WOW!
A hat that I loved, but had to leave behind!
A hat that I loved, but had to leave behind!

This wraps up a quick post on our stops to Berlin, Paris and Amsterdam! My next post will be of our road trip around Scotland! Stay tuned!

Our footprints: http://spiked.it/LfUdtoPhttp://spiked.it/tESwY4o ,

Delving into the playground of Vikings – Reykjavik, Iceland


One of Kev’s dreams was to see the northern lights. He looked into when was the best time to see them, and with the new moon after New Year’s eve, we decided to head up to Reykjavik in Iceland, the cheaper alternative to Tromso, Norway.

My first impressions

My limited knowledge of Iceland stemmed from years of re-watching the Mighty Ducks – D2. In the Disney classic, I remember first hearing about Iceland when someone said ‘Iceland is actually green, and Greenland is full of ice.’ Since then, it has just stuck. So this was the ample opportunity to put that statement to the test!

When we arrived, both Kev and I didn’t have a clue what to expect. So when we walked out of the airport and were hit with strong, icy winds bellowing across a vast and untouched volcanic black and snow white land spanning across the horizon with peaks jutting out and very little trees, I was very wide-eyed, awed and curious. This was nothing like any other place I’ve seen in my life. I’ve seen the dry, dusty, red Australian dirt in the outback, seen the humid, luscious greens in the tropics, the magical winter wonderland of the Austrian Alps. But this, this was completely foreign. Similarly to visiting Exmouth in Western Australia, there was a feeling that we were out in the wild, with only the small town-like-capital-city of Reykjavik as ‘civilisation’.

We intended to stay for 7 days. We ended up staying for 11. Iceland is just amazing. It also helped that we have been lucky to find cheap accommodation on Airbnb.

Within the first day, it was clear that Kev and I needed more appropriate clothes. A local mentioned to me that ‘in Iceland, there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.’ I really liked that piece of intimate Icelandic thinking. When I looked around, I saw that everyone had top quality wool beanies, scarves, sweaters, gloves, top quality snow jackets, pants and shoes, and the men had stunning, healthy, full beards which looked both wild and refined at the same time.

Nothing like a good beard to keep you warm and looking worldly.
Nothing like a good beard to keep you warm and looking worldly.

So our new purchases included a ‘snood’ as Kev calls it. This is worth a mention as it has been one of the most useful purchases we have made. It’s a merino wool tube which can be made into a scarf, beanie, headband, balaclava, hood, mask and other awesome head-face-warming-wear.

Our snoods. Me donning a balaclava and Kev, a beanie.
Our snoods. Me donning a balaclava and Kev, a beanie.

The things that Vikings do

Being in Iceland, Kev and I wanted to take advantage of all the things that the Icelanders do here that we could not possibly do back home. After reading through all the pamphlets and websites we decided on doing a northern lights tour, glacier hike with ice climbing, the golden circle tour (this the most popular tour in Iceland) with snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure, visit the Blue Lagoon and then a tour around the lava fields on the Icelandic horse!

Seeing the northern lights

Kev is drafting a detailed post on our northern lights experience so I’ll keep this one really short.

We went out on a super jeep, and our tour guide, ‘Gilly’ pulled over and took his camera out. I followed suit and took a 15 second shot in the same direction that he pointed his camera to see what my little Canon s95 could do, and to my surprise, my first shot was this:

First shot of the night!
First shot of the night!

was so surprised and squirmed in excitement! I didn’t care that it was blurry, I was just so ecstatic that there was a real aurora there, and that my camera could capture it! Kev who was busy setting up his tripod and camera next to me, grabbed my camera to have a look got instantly excited, and then went back to setting up his beastly camera (but a lot faster) to take the beautiful photos and time lapse that he will include in his post later!

Glacier hiking on Sólheimajöku and ice climbing

One of the incredible highlights of our trip was to go hiking on a glacier and go ice climbing on the glacier wall! It sounded so ‘cool’ and it was something I know I needed as a physical challenge!

The glacier hiking experience was so much fun! We learnt how to walk up an incline and down an incline, and transverse parallel on an incline too. From what I could see, I just had to stomp my feet a little harder than how I usually would when walking so that the crampons could cut into the ice and grip. After that, hiking was a breeze. I enjoyed hearing the crunch of the ice with each step while watching the ice change from a milky, to misty, to glass coloured. The formations of this frozen body reminded me of rolling waves that were frozen in action.

Our gear for the hike and for climbing - harness, helmet, pick and crampons.
Our gear for the hike and for climbing – harness, helmet, pick and crampons.
On the tongue of Sólheimajökull.
On the tongue of Sólheimajökull.
Kev in his hiking gear on Sólheimajökull
Kev in his hiking gear on Sólheimajökull

When we reached the ice wall that we were to climb up, both Kev and I were eager to give it a try. An American couple volunteered first, and so Kev and I watched in excitement to see them go. As you can imagine, as soon as they were near the bottom of the wall, Kev and I prepared ourselves to jump on right after them! As the day progressed, it appeared that the climbing wasn’t for everyone who took the tour, but luckily for us, both Kev and I enjoyed the challenge and the thrill of the height as we trusted our ice picks, harness and crampons to be free enough to climb to the top without fear. I say that if you have done rock climbing, bouldering or abseiling before and enjoyed it, it is very similar to that!

I quickly learnt from watching the American couple that the trick to climbing up the wall was to ‘abuse the ice’ as I whispered to Kev. What I meant was, you needed to assertively hack into the ice to create your holding point deep enough. If you were too gentle, you wouldn’t even make a mark into the wall.

Kev climbing up the ice wall
Kev climbing up the ice wall
Near the top of the glacier wall
Near the top of the glacier wall
Boo yea! Ladies represent!
Boo yea! Ladies represent!

After we finished our climb, Kev and I had a while to wait for the other tourists to do their climb. So we played around with Kev’s new mobile phone which has this cool animated photo setting.

Teee hee heee heeeeeeee!
Teee hee heee heeeeeeee!
Kev training up for his ice climb!
Kev training up for his ice climb!

Once everyone had their turn to climb, we started the last part of our hike. This allowed us to appreciate the beautiful sun which only shines from 10.30am till 3:50pm and to see more formations on the glacier.

On the glacier looking out to the ocean.
On the glacier looking out to the ocean.
Kev going through an ice tunnel!
Kev going through an ice tunnel!
Frozen ripples. It just reminded me of the ocean.
Frozen ripples. It just reminded me of the ocean.

Bathing outdoors in the Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon was the one thing that we heard about Iceland before we arrived. It was everywhere on the internet and everywhere in the airports. So we made a trip to this natural spa telling ourselves that it was for the purposes of ‘experiencing what the locals do’, but knowing that we both craved a bit of pampering after the hike and climb on the previous day.

We decided to try night time so just in case the northern lights decided to make an appearance. Unfortunately, they did not, but that did not spoil the night. Bathing in the 30 degree waters at 0 to – 3 degrees celsius in Iceland at night was magical! It felt so surreal and relaxing at the same time.

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Kev relaxing in the 30 degree blue waters of the Blue Lagoon.
Warming up after jumping in with a bikini from a 0 degree (but felt like -2 degrees) Iceland.
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Enjoying a fruity drink at the bar while waiting for our geo thermal masks to dry.

Snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure and the Golden Circle

I’ve been lugging around my underwater housing for my Canon for this moment. For the snorkel in glacier waters between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates in the National Park of Thingvellir. This was an experience that both Kev and I were keen to give a go, but also we were unsure how this would work. We never experienced extreme cold diving (2 degrees celsius), and never had worn a try suit before. Luckily for us, the tour that we went on and Ian, our snorkel guide, had everything prepared for us.

Ian told us that the waters were from the glacier, and that they have spent over 30 years trickling through the underground volcanic soil system to reach this silfra fissure. This process has created the purest water that we would ever swim in and taste! Let me tell you, it was such a refreshing sensation when I pulled out my snorkel to taste the lightest, cleanest water ever! Because the water is so pure, visibility is up to 100 metres. I kid you not, there were numerous of times when I put my face under the water, and I almost forgot to put my snorkel back in. Ian mentioned that those who go scuba diving sometimes experience vertigo when looking down below them!

Silfra fissure in Iceland
Silfra fissure in Iceland
Kev with his full teddy suit on.
Kev getting comfortable with his full teddy suit on.
Kev with his teddy, dry suit, wet suit hood and snorkel gear.
Kev with his teddy, dry suit, wet suit hood and snorkel gear.
Ian, our guide, fixing up my mask so that it's tucked into my hood.
Ian, our guide, fixing up my mask so that it’s tucked into my hood.
Incredible visability!!!!
Incredible visability!!!!
Sunrise over the mountains.
Sunrise over the mountains.
This is glacier waters, the purest waters we would ever swim in and taste! Up to 100m visibility!
This is glacier waters, the purest waters we would ever swim in and taste! Up to 100m visibility.
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Kev exploring.
Our faces were so numb that we lost the feeling of how to smile for the camera. Kev's doing a great job though!
Our faces were so numb that we lost the feeling of how to smile for the camera. Kev’s doing a great job though!
Swim in 2 degree glacier waters - MISSION accomplished!
Swim in 2 degree glacier waters – MISSION accomplished!

Snorkeling in the teddy and dry suit made us extremely buoyant. We all clumsily bobbed like apples in a bucket of water. I tried to dive down to Ian’s amusement, only to find myself bouncing up back to the surface. The gear given to use kept us really warm but our faces, fingers and toes suffered a bit.

After our snorkel, I embarked on being like my childhood hero, James Bond. Have a look see in the video below.

Ok, so perhaps I need more practice.

After snorkeling we visited the geysers and the Gullfoss Waterfall. These were all part of the golden circle tour, and were very beautiful and interesting to see.

Getting ready to burst!
Getting ready to burst!
Whoosh!
Whoosh!
At Gullfoss Waterfall
At Gullfoss Waterfall

Surprise Snowfall!

On Friday night (10 January 2014), Kev and I finally experienced our first snow fall! I was soooooo excited! It was so beautiful to see the snow flakes float in the wind and whirl around the light poles. After cooking dinner, I asked Kev if he would mind to come on an after dinner stroll. He didn’t hesitate. We ended up walking the streets for hours enjoying the moment, and playing in the dark unashamedly.

Snowfall!!!
Snowfall!!!
Snowball fights! I accidentally got Kev in the groin and in the face a few times. He snuck up on me as pay back.
Snowball fights! I accidentally got Kev in the groin and in the face a few times. He snuck up on me as pay back.
The snowball fight eventuated into giving life to Little Mr Snowman and his little snow dog.
The snowball fight eventuated into giving life to Little Mr Snowman and his little snow dog.

Riding Icelandic horses

You can’t get any more Icelandic than riding the Icelandic horse. The Icelandic horse, which you can see, smell, touch and experience, is a unique specimen of the horses that the Vikings brought over from Ireland and Scotland and used during their reign. Apparently, these horses have changed very little since then!

When I was younger I always loved horses, so horse riding was always a must for me. Kev however, had (and I emphasise the had) a preconception that horses were, and I quote ‘death traps’. His opinion changed as soon as he walked up to the cute and cuddly Icelandic horse. We met Blondie and Fakyir, our two horses for the tour. Blondie was so sweet natured and had these large loving eyes that connected with you when you approached, and she met you half way. She was gentle and I loved her! She definitely warmed Kev’s feelings too! Fakyir was a character. He was licking my hand and nibbling at my fingers immediately. He was a little stocky and pudgy looking, but I liked him. We were told that out of the two, Blondie was the easy going one. So eventually Kev took Blondie who was very nice to Kev, and I took the mischievous Fakyir who I had to pull back into line a few times.

Due to the snowfall from the previous night, our ride on Blondie and Fakyir at sunrise was exquisite. No words can describe it. Just these photos taken by our guide Andreas.

We were the first in Reykjavik to walk through this trail after a night of snow fall!
We were the first in Reykjavik to walk through this trail after a night of snow fall!
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Snow porn!
The Iceland that we hoped to see.
The Iceland that we hoped to see.
The Christmas I wished for!
The Christmas I wished for!
Kev and Blondie enjoying the morning rays
Kev and Blondie enjoying the morning rays
Winter wonderland at sunrise
Winter wonderland at sunrise
Cheeky Fakyir!
Cheeky Fakyir!

Andreas was amazed at our luck. He could not believe how beautiful the trail was. He kept saying ‘This is amazing,’ ‘you guys are so lucky,’ and ‘this is the best, and I mean the best tour this in the past year!’ As we explored on horseback, I could not help but grin the whole time. We were doing what the Vikings did!

The Icelandic horses were happier and more playful than the horses I have ridden back home. When we finished the trail, as soon as the saddles were taken off them, Blondie and Fakyir could not wait to roll around in the snow! They neighed and grunted in happiness while doing so. Kev and I just stood there amused at such large animals enjoying the pleasures of what my little dog Coco would do on my lawn in the backyard.

Last impressions

Iceland has been an adventure.

Iceland does have some green on it (Disney is correct on that point). However, Iceland is more than that. It is that magical place where fire meets ice. Where wild wilderness is less than a 10 minute drive outside of the city.

Iceland is expensive. We have spent a lot of money here on tours, clothing and food, but we have not regretted one thing.

I’ve gotten used to the egg smell in the hot water (from the sulphur), and I’ve become accustomed to expect glacier water from my tap from now on (big expectations now!).

I’ve given up on trying to speak Icelandic. To be honest, I didn’t really start as the sounds are too foreign for our tongues. The command of English here is outstanding.

I have become intrigued by some of the locals’ strong belief in elves and the hidden folk who live in rocks and caves around the area. I kid you not. It is a thing here. Check out this link : http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/12/22/22009310-icelands-hidden-elves-delay-road-projects?lite

The seafood here is excellent. They love their hotdogs here (What?) Yup, they do. Hotdogs too, are a thing here.

We had a hotdog almost once a day.
We had a hotdog almost once a day.

After being here for 11 days and doing the things that Vikings do, it is hard to avoid becoming just like the locals. As such, I sign off with our last photo taken in Reykjavik before leaving Iceland.

Complete Viking transformation guaranteed after 12 days in Iceland.
Complete Viking transformation guaranteed after 11 days in Iceland.

 

Our footprints: http://spiked.it/aziM6AW , http://spiked.it/RbLj9pJ , http://spiked.it/NSoEV5V , http://spiked.it/HJtuCn1 , http://spiked.it/S5QBPFM

The lead up to Christmas in Austria Part 2 – Innsbruck


Hello! Welcome back for part two! Do appreciate you making the second stop.

Because you have been such a good sport to come back for the second part of my blog post, here, have a Austrian Christmas cookie.

Yum... Christmas cookie for you!
Yum… Christmas cookie for you!

It’s a pretty long post. So make sure you’ve taken enough visual bites of the cookies to keep you sustained for the read.

As you may recall, when Kev recovered from his flu, I started getting sick. So leaving Vienna and traveling to Innsbruck was a bit of a mission for me. I had the chills, the sweats, the sore skin, nausea and a bad stomach. Carrying around a big backpack was exhausting and I just was so over packing it. I tell you, when traveling for an extended time with just a backpack, its always a struggle to get the damn zips to meet, no matter how much stuff you send back or throw out. But I managed and we made it to Innsbruck safe and sound. When we arrived in Innsbruck, being in the middle of the mountains and seeing peaks all around us with the clouds being so much closer, I just could not help but smile and feel invigorated. Looking up and seeing such wondrous, ancient giants so close up was the distraction I needed for me to forget about my physical struggle. It also filled me with hopes of a white Christmas.

View from our hotel room at the Hilton. Mountains everywhere you look.
View from our hotel room at the Hilton. Mountains everywhere you look.

Innsbruck, is the bridge across the Inn River as explained to us by Mathias, our ski instructor. But I’ll introduce you to him later.

In Innsbruck, we enjoyed the Old Town and enjoyed more of the Christmas Markets that were open. These markets were smaller than the ones in Vienna, however, they had more hand made goods and the atmosphere was a lot more intimate.

Kev and the scary huge 'puppet'.
Kev and the scary huge ‘puppet’.
Kev with another huge scary 'puppet'.
Kev with another huge scary ‘puppet’.
Walking down maria therein strasse.
Walking down maria therein strasse.
Hrmmm... fried potatoes!
Hrmmm… fried potatoes!

Skiing

One of the big highlights of Innsbruck was learning to ski! I know that for me, I really wanted to get a good grasp of the sport. I wanted to be skilled enough so that one day if I wanted to take up the cool New Zealand ski trip packages on offer in Australia, I could do it. Kev and I decided to see how the skiing went before booking and paying for multiple days of ski hire and booked the ski equipment and lesson for one day. We had such a great time, and had such a wonderful instructor that we ended up booking two extra days.

Our ski routine was to meet our instructor, Mathias, at 8:30 and be at the slope by 9:00am. Mathias would teach us for four hours and then Kev and I would opt to continue skiing until 3:30-4:00pm. Long, long days.

The skiing around Innsbruck, Austria
The skiing around Innsbruck, Austria

I am in disbelief at how quickly we picked up the sport. First day, Mathias took us to the bottom of Patscherkofel, the base of a blue slope. For the ski noobs out there, there is a grading system for slopes and in Austria the gradings are as follows: green – used for mountain hikers and sledding; blue – easy; red – harder; and black – hardest. I think the interpretation of how hard the slopes are differ depending on where you are, but it appears that universally the colour order are the same, that being green as easiest through to black being the hardest.

The base of Patscherkofel
The base of Patscherkofel

We first learned how to snow plough. Mathias explained that we had to make our skis look like a pizza slice. We then learned how to turn and then after that we were taken up a little higher to implement the basics he taught us. He was really clear in instruction and demonstration and it really helped that it was just Kev and I. First day, we were moving. I was pretty chuffed at how I managed to not fall over once and I realised that skiing was quite a natural sport. As in, you can learn how to ski intuitively. Mathias explained that skiing originated as basic means of transportation in the mountains during winter. Back then, they just attached wooden planks to their feet to ski around and transport hay.

Kev and his skis. Holding them like a pro.
Kev and his skis. First day and already holding them like a pro.

Second day, Mathias took us to another blue slope – Seegrube. This time we skied the whole slope. It was longer than what we had skied the day before and it was really fun. I felt like I had time to change the size of the turns I was making, play around with speed and direction. The slope was enjoyable. I couldn’t help but grin all day. Mathias then took us to try out the half pipe. The half pipe had a very very steep beginning and it was perfect for him to teach us how to descend an incline that was challenging for us. After that, using the edges of the half pipe, Mathias showed us how to turn on the edges. It was thrilling for me. Going up the edge for a little bit then turning adds so much extra speed in the descent. It was thrilling in that I had to really concentrate on keeping my skis together when turning up on the edge as a lot of the time, the way down had uneven snow which would throw you off balance.

Seegrube
Seegrube
Kev on the ski lift
Kev on the ski lift
Going for the half pipe!
Going for the half pipe!
An igloo with a club inside. YUP a club!
An igloo with a club inside. YUP a club!
Going up the ski lift
Going up the ski lift
Looking down into Innsbruck from Seegrube
Looking down into Innsbruck from Seegrube

The third day, Mathias decided to take us back to Patscherkofel and took us up to the very top of the mountain. It took us about 20 minutes using two different chair lifts to get there. When we got to the top, I nearly pee’d myself. We were on top of the world… and man, it was a steep way down. It was windy and I felt as if I was going to get blown off the top of the mountain. However, it was the perfect route to put all of our newly learnt skills into practice. With Mathias leading the way and us following him, it took us over an hour to get down to the bottom. Exhausting! It was the first time in a long time where my legs almost gave way numerous times due to exhaustion. It got to the point that every 10 minutes I would need a break or I would have to start saying out loud to myself ‘legs together’, ‘together’, ‘as one’. For a while they would obey, but near the end they just did what they had to.

The top of Patscherkofel.
The top of Patscherkofel.
Kev, Mathias and I at the top of Patscherkofel.
Kev, Mathias and I at the top of Patscherkofel.

After completing the descent, Mathias said that if we wanted, he could take us to a local cabin for lunch instead of the usual ski restaurant that we had gone to. He said that the cabin served the typical, local Tyrolean dishes and its a place for locals to go, the only thing was that we had to ski there. We were really game for that opportunity, so we took the ski lift up the mountain again. When we got off the ski lift, Mathias effortlessly glided down the mountain, off the ski track and onto a unmarked, narrow path with trees on either side, thinning snow, and a rocky, muddy path before us. It wasn’t too far off the ski slope but it was a bit of a walk when we took our skis off to get there. Once we arrived, I was so happy that we made the trip! It was the sweetest place I’ve seen. First thing I marvelled at was the view of the Alps. Mathias showed us where the glacier was and the way to Italy. The second thing was the cabins themselves. They were made of wood and had a ski rack for skiers and boarders to rest their gear on. There was this wooden trough which had running water pouring out of it and at the edge of the trough, thick icicles had grown from the trough down to the earth. The Trough had an iconic squirrel on it carved out of wood. It was beautiful.

Us at the cabin that Mathias showed us.
Kev having a drink from the water trough.
I love this squirrel.
I love this squirrel.
Looking towards Italy.
Looking towards Italy.
Such a cute set up!
Such a cute set up!

The cabin inside was very, very small. You could probably only squish in 15 people. Once we got a seat, Mathias ordered for us. I had a knodel made out of potato and cheese and in a soup broth (Mathias ordered the same), and Kev had wurst and noodles in a soup broth. We all drank shandy which is a popular drink amongst Austrians to drink after sports. The meal was simple but really nice. It gave us the rest and energy that we needed for the ride down.

Eating, drinking and resting.
Eating, drinking and resting.
Tiny and warm inside.
Tiny and warm inside.

After lunch, Mathias took us back to the ski slope. He stopped and waited for us to catch up to him. Once we were ready he said ‘Ok. So I meet you at the bottom.’ In my mind I was like ‘Woah?! at the bottom?’ Mathias must have seen our surprise and he assured us saying ‘You’ll be fine, you are half way down already’ (If you scroll back up to the last map, you can see Patscher Alm. That’s where he left us). After a big smile and a wave he skied down and Kev and I were left with each other. Nervously laughing Kev said ‘ok, so you first?’ I agreed and turned my skis downwards for the ride home. The ride was exhilarating, and just as tiring as the first. The only difference was that we could set our own pace. We took the breaks that we needed and we were able to navigate our way down the slope fine. Being able to do this gave me a sense of achievement because I never imagined myself being able to ski down a mountain slope by myself without skiing off a cliff.

When we reached the bottom, Mathias was there smiling and waiting for our arrival. I thanked him for pushing us into the deep end because I knew that if we didn’t go down the slope by ourselves this time, we would not be able to go down ourselves the next time. The run gave us the confidence we needed.

An unexpected Ice Hockey game

After our exhausting day, Kev and I realised that we needed to go shopping for food supplies. It was a struggle. We were ‘forced’ out of our room because house keeping needed to get in to clean it. I was a little annoyed as they should have cleaned it a little earlier than 5pm.

When we walked out, I saw that the lights were on at the stadium across the road. I also saw a scoreboard with a count down. ‘No way…’ I said. Kev asked what I was going on about and I replied with ‘Is… is… is that an ice hockey game?’. We crossed the road to have a look and indeed it was! It was Innsbruck v Linz.

Goodbye hunger! We got all excited that we forgot about dinner, and forgot about how sore and tired we were. The atmosphere was contagious! Families attended the games and the kids where donned in the team uniform and with vuvuzelas. The away team, Linz had a very strong support group who were cheering, chanting and antagonising the Innsbruck supporters in passionate, friendly manner. And the game. Oh the drama, the speed, the tumbles, the slams into the barricades.

Our tickets to the game!
Our tickets to the game!
The Innsbruck Sharks!
The Innsbruck Sharks!

IMG_8383

The cutest mascot!
The cutest mascot!

IMG_8394

Christmas

Christmas in Innsbruck was a quiet one. The forecast for the week said that it was to rain for Christmas. So my expectations for a white Christmas was low, however, I still hoped and hoped with all my might that it would unexpectedly snow. Unfortunately, this was not so. So we had a dry Christmas, but it was still a lot of fun!

Our Christmas corner with our Christmas Tree and all the presents!
Our Christmas corner with our Christmas Tree and all the presents!

So that wraps up our time in Innsbruck, Austria!

We are currently in Copenhagen, Denmark and preparing to fly to London tomorrow night. Copenhagen has been wonderful so far! Will post about it soon!

Our footprints: http://spiked.it/uHFQX3J , http://spiked.it/a22bMHP , http://spiked.it/ns4TkFN , http://spiked.it/QDvnsXz

Florence. Firenze.Italy


Florence.

Firenze.

Italy.

Beautiful in a romantic sense. Warm hues of yellow, pumpkin and chocolate come to mind when I think of Florence. My first experience walking down the Arno River was magical, and would be considered quite romantic actually. It was at sunset and the skies had turned a dusky orange. Seeing the Arno River and the Ponte Vecchio made me so happy as it felt as if I was walking through a painting.

Me in Florence!
Me in Florence!

Florence has art everywhere. It has beautiful sculptures that are accessible to everyone who simply walks through the city.

This magnificent sculpture is of Perseus who stands victorious over Medusa.
This magnificent sculpture is of Perseus who stands victorious over Medusa. Viewable to all at the Piazza della Signoria.

Cooking in Florence

In Florence, I really wanted to cook my own pasta and to just reinforce all of Mario’s teachings! As such, almost all of our dinners were cooked at the apartment.  The first night we cooked using these gigantic shell pasta which looked ridiculously big. Kev really wanted to give them a try and so we did. In my opinion, these shells were way too much effort. Firstly, they were too big to fit in your mouth (I burned and blistered my bottom lip) and secondly, they took way too long to cook. Lesson – despite how fun it looks, the bigger the pasta, the less enjoyable it is to cook and eat.

Kev and our gigantic shell pasta in puttanesca sauce.
Kev and our gigantic shell pasta in puttanesca sauce.

The next day we made it to the Mercato Centrale. It had pasta, herbs, sauces, cheeses, oils and meats. Markets are always the best places to see, smell and hear how the locals live. While we looked around we found some awesome things to cook for dinner that night! I was soooo excited! Kev laughed and was amused but was also a little unsure how he was going to enjoy dinner.

Pasta from the Markets!
Pasta from the Markets!
Oh YES they are!
Oh YES they are!

IMG_3033

Kev is a little apprehensive in trying my 'penis pasta alla puttanesca'.
Kev is a little apprehensive in trying my ‘penis pasta alla puttanesca’.
It was delicious!
It was delicious!

Cooking penis pasta was A LOT of fun! I’ll be the first to admit it. When we were preparing it, one of the other guests came to the kitchen and saying ‘Hrmmmm… smells delicious! You can smell it as you walk in! What are you cooking?’

I answered ‘penis pasta’.

He didn’t respond, however, when he looked into the bowl he gasped ‘Oh! They really DO look like penises. I didn’t think they would!’ He couldn’t contain his smile, and Kev and I couldn’t contain our growing amusement. Anyways, my ‘penis pasta alla puttanesca’ aka penis pasta in whore style sauce, was a hit! And even if it wasn’t, I was sooooo amused from the wondrously dirty AND legitimate pasta name that I had created 🙂

The last night that we cooked we ended up cooking risotto! Again this turned out fabulous! I have to say that perhaps my Italian cooking has improved because I was in Italy!

Porcini mushroom risotto.
Porcini mushroom risotto.

In and around Florence

Our time in Florence was spent soaking up the local atmosphere as opposed to doing all of the usual touristy things. We found cafes which had a great view of people and of the city, and spent hours just doing that – people watching. I personally love eavesdropping on conversations and hearing them pronounce words, hearing their excitement and their sing-song sounds and watching them animate their hands and faces.

We also spent a lot of the time eating gelatos, awesome foccacia and walking around looking at local stores and leather goods.

Here are some snaps to summarise our cruisey time in Florence.

Having another caricature drawn while outside of the Duomo.
Having another caricature drawn while outside of the Duomo.
Oh my god, my cheeks... I'm a hamster with stuff in its mouth.
Oh my god, my cheeks… I’m a hamster with stuff in its mouth.
A nice sunny day in Florence.
A nice sunny day in Florence.
I'm a sagittarius.
I’m a sagittarius.
Kev's a virgo
Kev’s a virgo
This is the place to get the BEST foccacia sandwiches ALIVE! No joke, we came to this place once a day and each time there was a line! All the locals come here!
This is the place to get the BEST foccacia sandwiches ALIVE! No joke, we came to this place once a day and each time there was a line! All the locals come here!
Loving the 2 Euro self service of wine with our foccacia
Loving the 2 Euro self service of wine with our foccacia
Kev with his new haircut and loving his gelato.
Kev with his new haircut and loving his gelato.
A caricature of Kev and I.
A caricature of Kev and I (obviously drawn prior to Kev’s haircut).
My sketch of the Duomo in pen my new notebook.
My sketch of the Duomo in pen my new notebook.
On Ponte Vecchio at night.
On Ponte Vecchio at night.
In front of the replica of Michaelangelo's David at
In front of the replica of Michaelangelo’s David at the Piazza della Signoria
It's a turtle cookie!
It’s a turtle cookie!
Kev having a Florentine steak - that being 500g of meaty goodness.
Kev having a Florentine steak – that being 500g of meaty goodness.
Outside the Duomo
Outside the Duomo
“OH!”
My last Italian hot chocolate!
My last Italian hot chocolate!

Final thoughts

Looking back at our time in Florence, though we did not do a lot of the touristy things such as taking a cooking class (which is something I had wanted to do), visit the Uffizi Meseum to see the beautiful ‘Birth of Venus‘ or see the original Michaelangelo’s David in the Galleria dell Accademia, I was very happy to have appreciated the little things about the culture in Florence and Italy. I was thrilled that I tried the Italian coffee (by taking some sips off Kev as I am not a coffee drinker), surprised that I ate tiramisu that I actually liked, figured out how to cook the perfect risotto, sketched a masterpiece of the Duomo, realised that Kev and I started to desire a glass of red wine with all our meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and finally, I got to try and speak Italian in the restaurants and at the post office when trying to figure out how to send another package home full of old clothes. Being able to communicate and get a response that you were hoping for is always just so energising!

On Kev’s side, I am sure he is proud of eating all of that 500g of Florentine steak, content that he tried the famous Florentine tripe and was able to conclude that he was never eating it again, relieved to have finally gotten a hair cut, and happy to have eaten that awesome foccacia almost every day.

Oh! I forgot! I got to rub that famous Il Porcellino at Mercato Nuovo which means that I am destined to return back to Florence one day. So not all is lost!

Yay for coming back to Florence one day!
Yay to coming back to Florence one day!

 

Our footprint: http://spiked.it/2JtwNQV

Buongiorno Italy!


Hooray! We have finally made it to Italy!

Even though this is my third time to Europe, this is my first time to Italy! Such a surprise though, given that ever since I was really young I loved pasta and my parents would always say “You should marry an Italian!”

Anyways, things have been a bit hectic and so I haven’t had the chance to blog about our time in Naples or Rome. We are currently in the beautiful city of Florence, however, I will try and keep this post about Naples and Rome and will cover Florence in the future. We are intending to stay in Florence until Friday 6 December 2013 (so there will be ample time to blog more!).

My idea of how Italy would be before arriving to this country looked a bit like this – pasta and pizza every day, men with slick hair and people talking with their hands.

Let me be the first to tell you, that Italy is exactly like this, but better! From my current experience in Italy, I found that Italians make fantastic pasta and pizza. They taste completely different to the pasta and pizza in Australia, a lot simpler, but you can taste each ingredient used. Also, good quality pasta and pizza does not leave you feeling bloated and heavy.

A typical first course meal in a local Roman restaurant called 'Da Enzo' - Rigatoni and Cacio e pepe with red wine.
A typical first course meal in a local Roman restaurant called ‘Da Enzo’ – Rigatoni and Cacio e pepe with red wine.

Italian men, they aren’t as slicked hair as I had thought, but the men and women do dress really well here. Talking with their hands. This is something the Italians most certainly do, however, I noticed that they talk not with just their hands, but with all of their being. This I really love! I can really relate to them as I do feel like I express my thoughts and feelings with my hands, body and energy and they do it straight back to me! I may not be able to speak Italian well, but so far, I’ve been able to make myself be understood.

Naples, Italy

Our first stop in Italy was actually the second last port of call on our cruise. We arrived in Naples and we disembarked our ship to take a tour of Pompeii! Pompeii is a wonderful place! Different to the other ancient cities that we had visited as this city was clearly different in the feel of the buildings and design of the cities. This was clearly a ‘Roman’ city. Little things like streets being built with these speed-bump-like obstacles which only permitted the standard Roman chariot, which was very cool. Foreigners who did not have the standard Roman chariot could rent one! Our tour guide made a joke about Avis first appearing in Italy.

Here’s some photos of our day:

Entry into the city of Pompeii
Entry into the city of Pompeii
Side street in Pompeii
Side street in Pompeii
Kevin and a wall fresco of a bull
Kevin and a wall fresco of a bull
Fiery deer fresco
Fiery deer fresco
Flying goat…lion…?
Flying goat…lion…?
The McDonalds of Pompeii - a fast food joint.
The McDonalds of Pompeii – a fast food joint.
An eerie figure..
An eerie figure..

Roma, Italy

Ah Rome. I couldn’t believe that we arrived in Rome when we did. There was that feeling of disbelief, that I was in one of the most famous cities in Europe. I’m going to keep my post in Rome about my overall experience and will let Kev post about what we saw and what did there.

Rome for me was about two things, which I have mentioned briefly above – the people and the food.

After holding out on the pizza and pasta that was readily available on the cruise (and being a pasta lover, it was very difficult for me to do so especially when there was a pasta station with a chef who would cook your pasta there and then!), I was ready and eager to dig into the local food. We ended up staying in an apartment that we found though Airbnb in the area of Trastevere. We met Mario and his dog Guapo and I knew instantly that this was going to be an awesome stay. Mario’s place was simple, but warm. There were three other groups staying at the apartment and Mario really opened his heart to all, allowing us to feel welcomed and not shy to chat with each other. He really encouraged all to get to know each other and within hours, I know I felt like I was at home.

Mario helped us with directions, local knowledge of where to eat and what places to avoid. Insider tip, the Italians eat from 7pm onwards. This is a small adjustment for us as we normally eat at 6pm. Any restaurant that is open earlier than that is apparently ‘not good’. When we told Mario that we had already eaten dinner one night, his eyes almost fell out of his head and he protested ‘No no no no! That means you did not eat at a good place!’ After that, he insisted that we eat with him. I protested politely as I knew Kev and I were stuffed. Well I knew that I was.  However, regardless of me saying I wanted ‘nothing’, we ended up at the dinner table having second dinner, that being home made pasta by Mario.

This was not the only instance where we were treated to home made Italian pasta. Mario insisted that we join him on three occasions. One occasion he asked me ‘So Anna, having nothing again tonight?’ ‘Uh… yes…’ I smiled while I started to regret eating dinner again. ‘OK. I will consider that in the amount of pasta I make. Is Kevin having nothing too?!’ ( 🙂 Big Love! He looked after us so well). Once Mario started dinner, me and Guapo would stand next to Mario has he worked his magic around the kitchen. Me hungry to learn how to cook pasta the Italian way; Guapo hungry to eat anything that fell on the floor. I had mentioned to Mario that we wanted to take cooking lessons and learn how to make pasta, he recommended us a place, but after the second night there Mario said ‘Since you guys are nice, how would you like me to teach you how to make pasta? You got to be ready to do a lot of work.’  I was ecstatic and told him I was up for it and that I was sure Kev would be up for it. Mario asked the other groups if they would like to join us, however, only Martina and Dan from Vienna were keen.

Martina and Dan were a wonderfully fun couple that Kev and I got to know during our time at Mario’s place. The first day we met them we spent the night chatting at the dinner table about where we were from (us from Australia, Dan from Berlin but now currently living with Martina in Vienna), cultural idiosyncracies and just randoms stuff. Mario joined us and offered us some grappa (to which we all politely declined), however, as the conversation took off, Mario stealthily poured us all a glass of grappa anyways! Some of the interesting things I learnt that night were:

1. US/English speaking movies that are shown in Europe either are dubbed or subtitled. If they are dubbed, the American or English speaking actor has his/her own voice over actor! The example given to us was that the voice over actor for Tom Hanks will always be the voice over for Tom Hanks. So Europeans can recognise his voice over and associate it with Tom Hanks. However, the voice over actor for Tom Hanks is also the voice over for Bruce Willis and Gerard Depardieu! We were told that it can get quite confusing.

2. Sandra Bullock can speak flawless German. She has a flawless accent and both Martina and Dan were amazed at how well she can speak. I kid you not, she sounds awesome. It blew my mind when we YouTubed it. I really loved her before but she just got awesomer!

3. When we continued to chat about English speaking actors who can speak German, Diane Kruger and Michael Fassbender came up. I love both actors, and both of them were in the movie Inglorious Bastards. Funnily, Dan referred us to the scene where Michael Fassbender’s character gives away his ID when he orders ‘three drinks’. Dan wanted to know whether it was true that we signal three with our hands using our index, middle and ring fingers! Kev and I laughed so hard because we have always wanted to know whether it was really true that Germans used their thumb, pointer and middle fingers to signal three. As you can tell, our conversation confirmed this tiny, but facinating cultural difference which would not have been picked up by either of us, but for Quentin Tarintino’s film. The scene which I refer to can be found here.

The next day, Martina and Dan had planned to go to the Colosseum, whereas Kev and I were tossing up between there and the Vatican. Kev and I left a lot later than them but decided to go to the ancient ruins instead of the Vatican because the weather was good. By good luck, we bumped into Martina and Dan around 2pm on the bottom floor of the Colosseum! We all were starving and had pretty much finished exploring. Kev and I suggested that we try a trattoria that Mario recommended. A Trattoria which was the ‘typical’ Roman soccer fanatic type – loud, lively, slightly gruff but not intending to be rude, and with great pasta and pizza. Martina and Dan liked the sound of that and agreed to join us. We had a great time there watching the locals talk and eat.

Outside the colosseum.
Outside the colosseum.
Awesome foursome selfie of Dan and Martina, Kev and I.
Awesome foursome selfie of Dan and Martina, Kev and I.

All this bonding naturally made cooking pasta together with Mario and Guapo really fun and comfortable! This night was by far the best night in Europe so far! Mario filled the kitchen with life, fun and energy! I could’t help but relish in the positive vibes that bounced from the walls. The tiny kitchen was cozy for five people and a dog to fit in, but it worked!

Pasta is SOOOOOO FUN!
Pasta is SOOOOOO FUN! Eating and making! I can’t contain myself! GAHAHAHAHAHAAAA!
Mario, our host showing us how the Italians do it.
Mario, our host showing us how the Italians do it.
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Mario said you only need one person to do this. Us rookies needed three.
Look at our looooong pasta!
Look at our looooong pasta!
Mario cooking our pasta al dente.
Mario cooking our pasta al dente.
Serving up our meal.
Serving up our meal.
YUM!
YUM! This was the BEST pasta ever!

On Martina and Dan’s last night in Rome, we all went to their favourite Bar, Antico Caffe Del Moro, for some final drinks!

Dan, Kev, Me, Martina and Mario.
Dan, Kev, Me, Martina and Mario at Antico Caffe Del Moro

It was sad to see them go. It was always nice bumping into them in the kitchen, dining room, our hallway chats or in between the rush for the bathroom. We didn’t get to see them off, however, when Kev and I returned from the Vatican, we saw this napkin note which was slid under our door:

LOVE :)
LOVE 🙂

Unfortunately, I do not have any photos of the other lovely people that we met at Mario’s place. We met two German sisters who left on the same day as Martina and Dan, Nathan and Hillary from New Orleans and Alicia from Seattle. Everyone was so nice and friendly! And, after Mario’s insistence over the time of our stay, on our last night in Rome, I brought out my ukulele to play some tunes. Luckily I had a few glasses of wine to calm the nerves of playing and singing for a small group of people who I just met. But it was a BAG full of fun! Most of them knew the songs I could play (Alicia is a karaoke queen!!!). Mario then asked me to play an Italian song, to which I was unable to do so as I didn’t know the song well enough to play just by looking at the chords. I felt super bad because of all people, I would have loved to have obliged him given that he had looked after us so well. By the end of our ukulele-singing-YouTubing-bonding session, we all were smiling and we decided to call it a night at 1.30am. What a night! Now I am determined to learn one Italian song before I leave this country!

*** By way of update (04/12/2013) Mario has sent me a short video clip which he created for our ukulele night! You can meet Guapo, Alicia, Nathan and Hillary here! 🙂

I should be Italian

As mentioned earlier, my parents always thought that I was secretly Italian, or that I should marry an Italian. While exploring Rome, we stumbled across some confirmations that I really do belong here:

My street!
My street!
Actually, it's Anna everywhere in Rome!
Actually, it’s Anna everywhere in Rome!

Our footprint: http://spiked.it/PbduoT2

First Port Stop – Kusadasai, Turkey


So, we have a back log of posts. Apologies!

On Friday 15 November 2013, Kev and I went on our first cruise tour group.

While on the Constellation, I’ve been thinking about how most of our sightseeing has been organised by ourselves and the idea came up that the cruise is in fact, a holiday from our holiday (if that makes any sense).

For one thing, all our meals are planned. Glorious food! It’s amazing how much variety and great food there is on this ship. Secondly, everything is done for us. From our rooms being made up, to activities being planned for us, to finally, every night having our beds ‘turned down’ (as in they open the blankets for us, leaving us with after dinner mints and a print out of our program for the next day).

So, after accepting this mindset (that we are on a holiday from our holiday) going on the organised day tours became an ‘experience’. I was interested in experiencing how it is to be a ‘tourist’ and see things from the customer side of a resort as opposed to our mini ‘behind the scenes’ experience in the Maldives with MWSRP and the Conrad Rangali. So far, it has been nice not having to worry about the little things like where to find towels for the day etc. However, I think I do miss the interaction that you get to have with the staff members. I still talk and have gotten to know a few crew members who I get the chance to hear about where they are from and they give me great smiles during the day, but it’s not the same.

Anyways, our first port of call was Kusadasai.

Ephesus

Ephesus is a beautiful place to see! The ancient city of Ephesus was abandoned due to Aegean Sea receding and leaving swamps around the city. The people then started getting sick believing it was due to the ‘bad air’ which they said was ‘Malaria’. However, they didn’t realise that it was due to the mosquitos and the swamps. This was just one of the cool stories told by our awesome tour guide Volkan.

So Ephesus was abandoned and was left for the elements to hide it.

It is currently an active excavation site and on our tour of the city, we were able to see archaeologists working on restoring it!

For me, the highlight was walking through the ancient city (through the Arcadian Way) and imagining myself as one of the citizens of the day. Things like experiencing the communal bathrooms, walking to the library (Library of Celsius) and going to the arena were the highlights of my time there.

Me chilling with Hermes and wishing I had winged sandals too.
Me chilling with Hermes and wishing I had winged sandals too.
Kev on the Arcadian Walk
Kev on the Arcadian Walk
STOP!
STOP!
Doing what the locals in Ephesus do.
Doing what the locals in Ephesus do.
Pondering on life in the public lavatories.
Pondering on life in the public lavatories.
Kev all joyous outside the Library of Celsius
Kev all joyous outside the Library of Celsius
Reading up some interesting stuff from the Library of Celsius
Reading up some interesting stuff on the stairs of the Library of Celsius
Kev just outside the Library of Celsius.
Kev just outside the Library of Celsius.
Striking a serious pose outside a serious library.
Striking a serious pose outside a serious library.

Miletus

Our second stop was another ancient city of Miletus which also had arena/theatre. Volkan told us how to tell the difference between a Greek theatre and a Roman theatre. In Ephesus, the theatre was Greek as they have a open style theatre where the audience can experience the view of the landscape as well as the show and the theatre is in the shape of a horse shoe. In Miletus, the theatre was a Roman, as it was built with high walls so that the audience would be totally immersed in the performance and the shape was one of 180 degree.

We were unable to further explore the rest of this city, which I was slightly disappointed about. But I appreciated that we were on a tight schedule.

Kev watching a show in the Roman theatre in Miletus.
Kev watching a show in the Roman theatre in Miletus.
Sneaking a pose for a shot with 'an audience'.
Sneaking a pose for a shot with ‘an audience’.
The 'audience' seeing what I was doing and actually giving me an applaud. LOVE THOSE GERMANS! :D
The ‘audience’ seeing what I was doing and actually giving me an applause. LOVE THOSE GERMANS! 😀

Temple of Apollo 

This was very beautiful and I just loved the stories that came from Volkan. He told us that the people back in those days would be drawn to the Temple of Apollo to seek insight into their future as Apollo was the god of the Sun and foresight. People would go to the temple, and write their question on papyrus and give it to an interpreter who would take the question to the oracle. The oracle and the interpreter would communicate in a special language that only they knew. The oracle would then burn certain leaves (opium) to see what the future had in store and then tell the interpreter who would in turn tell the answer to the eagerly waiting believer.

Due to bad luck, the temple was never completed (an earthquake and a war). However, it was used by those who worshipped the old gods and Christians. Volkan showed us some interesting graffiti on the marble floors which the Christians used to communicate to each other.

Another story that Volkan told us, was the story of where the Aegean  Sea got its name. This I vaguely remembered from my primary school days and my heart lit up when he told it to us. There was a King named Aegea. His people were terrorised by the Minotaur (the half bull half man dude) and so, they would send the Minotaur a human sacrifice on a yearly basis. They would send the sacrifice by a ship with black sails as they were very sad about this. King Aegea had one heir to the throne, and he was determined to kill this beast to rid the people of this threat forever. After some convincing, the King agreed to allowing his son go, and told him that if he defeated the Minotaur, to change the sails to white. However, if he was unsuccessful and had died, then to keep the sails back. The son was able to defeat the Minotaur and buzzing from the victory he forgot to change the sails. As such, the King who was eagerly watching the horizon, saw the black sails and was so distraught that he jumped into the sea, the Aegean Sea.

Temple of Apollo
Temple of Apollo

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Chilling next to a beautiful house near the Temple of Apollo
Chilling next to a beautiful house near the Temple of Apollo
A original Roman street.
A original Roman street discovered next to the Temple of Apollo only 2 years ago.

I loved this. My imagination had a ball on this day!