Jun 222009
 

Home at last!

It was a massive trip.  Epic almost!  We arrived home on Monday, jet-lagged but excited  and struggled to stay awake until a reasonable hour!  Fortunately Singapore is only two hours behind, but unfortunately we got almost no sleep on the flight home.

We thought we should put this trip into some numbers for you: 16 weeks, 18 countries, 46 places to stay, 9GB or 3,700 photos, $150/day, 13 airports, 46 train stations, 31 (major) train trips, 865km in a Mercedes, 2000 miles in a campervan, seven languages and approximately 10kg of gelato!

We also feel we should make some broad conclusions about our trip:

  1. Four months is a long time!  Yet there was so much more we could have done and would like to go back and do.
  2. Every country is different – different food, different view, different weather and different experiences.  Therefore, it’s difficult to narrow down our favourites and least favourites.
  3. Living out of a suitcase gets really old.  I heart my wardrobe!
  4. Write everything down!  No matter how long you’re going for, keep a travel diary.  I have already forgotten so much, but fortunately I was pretty strict about keeping my journal up to date.
  5. The value of a home cooked meal is vastly underrated… until you have to eat at restaurants for three meals a day, for four months…

Looking forward to seeing you all and hearing about your past four months!  Of course, we’ve got more stories too – like the morning we almost got hypochlorite poisoning in Belfast, easy ways to master the ‘stupid American tourist’ stereotype, a real Irish joke, where to go sunbaking in central Geneva if you’re a nudist and finally the many, many creative ways some Europeans will lighten your pockets (none of which happened to us (we think), thankfully).

Paddington makes it home!

Paddington makes it home!

We’ll leave you with a photo of our $5 suckerfish ‘massage’ in Chinatown in Singapore.

Now off to Trip Advisor to write some reviews and return the favour to those who helped us find some fantastic places to stay…

Treating our feet to a tickly suckerfish massage.

Treating our feet to a tickly suckerfish massage.

Jun 172009
 

And so to Europe we say au revoir, auf wiedersehen,  ciao, adiós, dag!  It has certainly been an adventure, a reconnaissance mission of sorts – we know we’d like to go back!

What, you ask, has been the best?  That’s quite a difficult question – we have seen so much and had so many different experiences that it is impossible to choose just one.  But here’s our shortlist (in no particular order):

Awesome Accommodation:

  • Bruges: Royal Stewart B&B
  • Venice: Al Gallion B&B
  • Santorini:  Villa Maria Damigou
  • Rothenburg ob der Tauber: Haus Karin
  • Paris: An Apartment in Paris
  • Marrakech: Riad de l’Orientale

Cool Cities:

  • London
  • Berlin
  • Paris
  • Venice
  • Rome

Perfect Places:

  • The Swiss Alps
  • Firostefani at sunset
  • Geneva on a perfect spring day
  • Cambridge on the River Cam
  • Prague at twilight

Favourite Food:

  • Macaroons (Paris)
  • Scampi spaghetti (Venice)
  • Prosciutto (Parma)
  • Tagine (Marrakech)
  • Greek salad (Santorini)

Recommended Restaurants:

  • Benares, London
  • David Bann’s, Edinburgh
  • Kantjil and Tijger, Amsterdam
  • Aktaion, Firostefani
  • Lehká Hlava, Prague
  • Au Brin de Thym, Arles
  • Kosybar, Marrakech
  • Restaurante Integral Artemisa, Madrid (whoops, we couldn’t stop at five)

Best Beer:

  • Bruges Zot Blonde (Belgium)
  • Tripel Karmeliet (Belgium)
  • Pilsner Urquell (Czech Rep)
  • Efes (Turkey)
  • Moritz (Spain)

Great Guides:

  • Tori, London
  • Kate & Dennis, St Andrews
  • Tante Margreet, Rotterdam
  • Andy, Andrea, Maira, Salome & Samira, Landau in der Pfalz
  • Amy & Lis, Ferney Voltaire

Don’t go away just yet, we’ve got a few days in Singapore…

 Posted by at 12:24 pm
Jun 162009
 
Skulls in the Catacombes

Skulls in the Catacombs

Six million in fact –  neatly stacked and arranged in the Catacombs of Paris.

From 1785, skeletons were moved from Paris’ overcrowded cemetaries into an old limestone quarry beneath the streets of the city.

The large stacks of bones fill a labyrinth of underground tunnels about a kilometre in total length.  The bones look like they have been arranged by type, so I don’t think you were kept together when you were moved from the cemetary!

It’s a macabre museum to say the least!

Catacombs of Paris

Catacombs of Paris

When we weren’t disturbing the dead, we were eating garlic-butter snails with newfangled utensils…

Les douze escargots de bourgogne

Les douze escargots de bourgogne

Morning in Montmartre

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Jun 142009
 
Sunday at Sacré Coeur

Sunday at Sacré Coeur

Apparently Montmartre is one of the most visited places in Paris (after the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre of course).  I would speculate that Amelie may have something to do with that… I know I hadn’t heard of the area before I saw the movie.  Today it seemed like every tourist in Paris had woken up with the same idea.

After a wander through the admittedly picturesque back streets, we puffed up the hill to Sacre Coeur.

We admired the slightly smoggy view of greater Paris and then walked down the 235 steps to the Metro Anvers.

Along the way we congratulated ourselves on picking an alternative route to the summit, and laughed at the gullible tourists who had been caught by the string men.

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I will miss the beautiful twilight hour in Europe…

The Louvre, 22:30

The Louvre, 22:30

The Louvre

The Louvre

 Posted by at 11:00 pm  Tagged with:
Jun 132009
 
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La Tour Eiffel

Although we arrived early to the Tour Eiffel, the people waiting had already formed a snaking line beneath the tower they desired to ascend.

Fortunately the ‘I’m fit enough to not need an elevator’ line was very short and we were soon scaling the steel stairs to the second level of the tower.

668 steps later we arrived, slightly short of breath and in need of the water we brought, but confident we’d beaten all those who lined up for the elevator below.

The views of Paris from the tower were pretty amazing, smog aside.  From every side of the tower there were several Parisian icons to spot.

Back down the steps, now with time to read the signs along the way that inform you on various tower trivia like it’s weight in elephant equivalents or that it is coated with 60 tonnes of paint.

Palais de Chaillot and Trocadéro Garden from La Tour Eiffel

Palais de Chaillot and Trocadéro Garden from La Tour Eiffel

We then headed for the Arc de Triomphe.  Commissioned by Napoleon (like a few things around here…) the massive arch sits in the middle of a 12-street intersection.  If driving, it seems you shut your eyes, pull out and hope someone else actually has their eyes open to see you and let you through the world’s craziest round-a-bout.

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

One of the 12 streets leading away from the arch is Champs-Elysées – a wide, tree lined boulevard that took us to the Tuileries Garden and home.

Champs-Elysées

Champs-Elysées

Viva la revolution!

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Jun 122009
 
Gardens at Palace of Versailles.  This is just the orangerie (orange orchard).

Gardens at Palace of Versailles. This is just the orangerie (orange orchard).

A trip to Versailles makes one thing clear – the French probably had a point when they revolted.  The palace is a study in excess.  I’m pretty sure you could run a marathon in the grounds without retracing your route.  It felt like we walked 40km trying to get to Domaine de Marie Antoinette.   When we arrived at the Summer House, it was like we’d stepped back in time; there appeared to be some kind of period piece being filmed.

Filming at Domaine de Marie Antoinette

Filming at Domaine de Marie Antoinette

In the evening we took advantage of the Louvre’s free entry for under 26s.  We mainly focused on the Italian and French paintings found in the Denon wing.  Of course we saw the Mona Lisa, but in my unsophisticated opinion the Eiffel Tower is cooler.

There she is, behind bullet-proof glass

There she is, behind bullet-proof glass

 Posted by at 8:15 pm  Tagged with:
Jun 112009
 
Le Tour Eiffel

Le Tour Eiffel

Our final destination in Europe!  We’ve been keeping busy so far in Paris – apparently there’s more wet weather on the way so we’re making the most of the half-sunny days.

First stop, the Picasso Museum, for a look at the Spanish painter’s crazy cubism.  And no,  we didn’t take the sketches.  The security was quite low compared to most galleries we’ve visited.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

We then took a walk across Pont Neuf to Ile de la Cité (the island on the Seine) to visit Notre Dame.  Nearby on Ile Saint-Louis is Berthillon, the most famous (and best) ice cream shop in Paris France Europe the world.

Berthillon

Berthillon

Walking on we glimpsed the massive Louvre museum and the Tuileries Gardens before ending back at our cute little apartment just two minutes from the Louvre.

The Louvre

The Louvre

At night we checked out Le Tour Eiffel from across the river at Palais de Chaillot.  Every hour it puts on a little flashing light show.  It is 120 years old this year; the last time I saw it was at it’s centenary.

Le Tour Eiffel

Le Tour Eiffel

Jun 092009
 

Although we did not visit one of the bigger châteaux, we saw about half-a-dozen smaller ones without even trying.

Châteaux de Tours and St Gatien Cathedral

Château de Tours and St Gatien Cathedral

We had some wet, stormy weather in Tours but it made for some interesting photos of the sky.  (And we had a much needed rest).

Our  wine tour promised cheese but did not deliver 🙁  Nonetheless, it was a good opportunity to learn about French wines and visit a vineyard in each of the Bourgueil and Chinon regions.  In Europe, it is the region (and not the grape) that is usually marked on the bottle.  So if you don’t know which grapes are grown where, then you’re basically just deciding between  red and white!

Chteau de La Grille winery, Chinon region, Loire Valley

Château de La Grille winery, Chinon region, Loire Valley

In contrast to the Australian cellar door tasting  experience where you line up at least half-a-dozen varieties of grape from whites to reds, here it is half-a-dozen vintages of the one variety.  Both vineyards we visited grew only Cabernet Franc vines but the weather and soil conditions the different vintage grapes were exposed to produced a very wide range of tastes in the final wines.

35 year old Cabernet Franc vines at Château de La Grille

35-year old Cabernet Franc vines at Château de La Grille

In other news,  the EU elections were held on the weekend.  Although we’ve seen a lot of advertising for the elections in various countries, they had the lowest voter turn-out ever of 43%.  The Swedish Pirate Party actually won a seat!  Arrr!  (Not that type of piracy 😉 )

La Maison Arabe

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Jun 052009
 
Tagines cooking at La Maison Arabe

Tagines cooking at La Maison Arabe

The cooking class with La Maison Arabe is listed as the #1 thing to do in Marrakech by TripAdvisor.  Our host at our Riad also advised us that the class came highly recommended.  It is so popular normally that we weren’t sure we would be able to get in. Luck was on our side, and we were booked in for the Thursday, our last full day in Marrakech.

The class is conducted at the hotel’s “country club,” which has excellent facilities.  The class takes a maximum of 8 people, but on our day there were only 4 in total – us and another couple.  Our translator was Mohammed, who spoke excellent English and gave us a briefing on the basics of Moroccan cookery.

The facilities and the chef

The facilities and the chef

Spice mix (before ground)

Spice mix (before ground)

Moroccan food relies heavily on spices and dried fruit, which is unsurprising given the desert-like climate.  The main spices are salt, pepper, saffron, tumeric and dried ginger (for savoury foods).  Sometimes cinnamon and Ras-el-Hanout are added.  Ras-el-Hanout is a spice mix, bought premixed from a spice merchant.  It can have up to 24 spices included, and each vendor will have his own version.

We prepared a 3 course Moroccan meal.  Firstly, a Moroccan raw salad, which is just tomato, green capsicum and red onion, mixed with a little oil, white wine vinegar, cumin and salt.

Morrocan salad

Moroccan salad

The main course was a tagine – chicken with preserved lemon and olives.  It has salt, pepper, tumeric and saffron, plus coriander and parsley.  You serve it in the tagine, with the skin of the preserved lemon artfully arranged over the chicken.

Tagine of chicken with preserved lemons and olives

Tagine of chicken with preserved lemons and olives

Finally, a simple Moroccan dessert – oranges with icing sugar and cinnamon. It’s simple, but it’s delicious!

Simple but delicious!

Simple but delicious!

Overall, the experience was well worth doing – the setting is beautiful, the translator and chef are lovely and there’s something very satisfying about cooking the meal yourself.

Happy customers!

Happy customers!

Jun 042009
 

Ten things to do in Marrakech

1. Experience the souks with all their chaos and diversity.  Be sure to bargain with a stall owner (but only when you really want the item in question).

Spices in the souks

Spices in the souks

2. Visit le Jardin de Majorelle, wander through the cacti and be inspired by the bold blues and greens, like a Henri Matisse painting.

Majorelle Gardens

Majorelle Gardens

3.  Visit Jamaa el Fna and buy an orange juice from one of the vendors.

Orange juice vendors on the square

Orange juice vendors on the square

4.  Still on Jamaa el Fna, avoid the dentist with his array of molars, the men dressed in red and crazy hats who follow you playing cymbals and the men who try to put their mangy monkeys on your shoulders.

The square at dusk

The square at dusk

5.  Take a break from the hectic crowds and heat and return to your Riad – an oasis in the medina.

Riad de lÓrientale

Riad de lÓrientale

6.  Eat tagine – lots of it.

Tagine with preserved lemons and olives

Tagine with preserved lemons and olives

7.  Drink mint tea – lots of it.  It tastes like chewing gum and is served with lots of sugar!

Minty fresh!

Minty fresh!

8.  Visit the mosques that dot the skyline (although you are not allowed inside unless you are Moslim).

Mosque

Mosque

9.  Buy a pair of babouches, if you can get them down to a reasonable price!

Babouches

Babouches

10. Take the cooking class offered byLa Maison Arabe, and learn some of the secrets of Moroccan cooking.

Cooking at La Maison Arabe

Cooking at La Maison Arabe