Guten Tag Mate!

Today was a transit day so you’re in for a short post after yesterday’s mammoth one!

We were heading to Munich, Germany at lunch time by train. However, we strategically caught a later train so we could get a last glimpse of Innsbruck this morning. As I mentioned yesterday, the snow covered alps are breathtaking and it really is impossible to get bored with the view. Especially the contrast against the vivid turquoise river that flows through the town. We also took some pics of the famous (well, famous in Innsbruck) Golden Roof which was built in 1420 to make royal announcements.

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It is worth making an honourable mention to Nelson Mandela, who was buried this week. While his efforts for human rights were centred in South Africa, his work and bravery was felt everywhere. Even here in historic Innsbruck. So thank you Nelson Mandela!

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Next stop Munich! The train trip was relatively short today, only 2 hours. The scenery leaving Innsbruck consisted of the alps. But once the mountain ranges ended, the land was relatively flat. In addition, the weather changed to overcast and grey.

We were now becoming pros on local transport and caught the metro to where our apartment was located. We had hired a flat on Airbnb. This was our first impression as we rang the doorbell. Would you be scared?

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To answer my own question, yes and no! The hallway was pretty shabby but the flat itself was quite funky and retro. We were glad we had booked the apartment as we get to live like a local for a few days!

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After freshening up, we walked to the old town for the Christmas Markets. Wow!  These ones were triple the size of Innsbruck with real local handicrafts (not made in China products).

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Gotta run now as we have a tour starting soon and I’m not ready yet. More later ….

Last chance everything!

This is it. Our last day. Mixed feelings this morning – sad that another epic holiday is over but excited to be home to family, friends and creature comforts.

Until check out at 10am, the morning was spent repacking our suitcases. We then decided to chill out today with last minute shopping. We started with some of the shops in Knightsbridge where I finally got my H&M fix. Then Harrods for souvenirs (given we really couldn’t afford anything else in the shop on the last day of our holiday).

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We then went to Notting Hill in West London to explore Portobello Road. Notting Hill is still a wealthy area but it is much more funky and arty than Belgravia. The houses are painted different colours which make them look quite striking. Portobello road also had some very funky shops but I had blown my final budget at H&M and Harrods so I just window shopped (oh and got a pedicure) while Glenn did some damage at a record store. What was cool was that this record store was the same one Glenn bought a tonne of vinyl at in 1998. (Reliving the past again?).

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We finished our last day with a pub meal of fish and chips, an English pie and beers!!

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So off to the airport we trudged with our heavy luggage on the packed underground. That’s all from overseas. Last post will be my final wrap up…. Until then!

It’s the final countdown!

It’s a sad sad sad day today. It’s our last full day in London. We decided to do the same as yesterday… First half of the day doing touristy sightseeing and then exploring an area.

We started checking out the Tower of London which was built in 11th century. I had visited last time so we just walked around it. It is quite surreal that there is a castle in London city in the middle of the business district.

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We then walked over Tower Bridge. Tower Bridge is relatively new – opened in 1894. However,  in my view, Tower Bridge is a very impressive bridge. It is incredibly grand. I actually said yo Glenn that it may be more impressive than Sydney Harbour Bridge but was very quickly put in my place!

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We walked along the Thames (which is very dirty looking) to St Paul’s Cathedral. St Paul’s dates back to 604AD when it was medieval church that was destroyed in the 1666 Great Fire of London. The current cathedral was built in the late 17th century. When we arrived it was closed unless you were there to worship. Given it was Sunday morning, we decided to go to mass – even if it was Church of England and not Catholic ;). When we entered, the choir was angelically singing hymns and the homily was very real and relateable. The inside of the church was also amazing. I would highly recommend visiting during worship to fully appreciate the church.

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We then jumped on the underground and went to Camden Town to stroll through Camden markets and see the Camden lock. My goodness the markets were massive. Whilst there was some cool stuff, a lot of it was the same and not unique. However, it was very cool to walk around the area which felt more grudge.

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In the afternoon Glenn and I had alone time. Glenn was catching up with a friend, Adam. I was off to see a musical, The Commitments. The musical is based on the movie, which is based on the book, about brining soul music to working class Ireland in the late 1980’s. The musical was good which heaps of songs to bop along too. However, the highlight was my celebrity spotting. Matt Lucas from Little Britain was sitting in the row behind me…. Gotta love a celebrity spot, especially when you have better seats than them! It is also worth noting that going to a musical without Rita is just strange!!! Missed her heaps!!

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For our last night we were planning on going into Covent Garden for dinner. However, while waiting for the underground, there was an announcement that trains in that direction would be delayed because there was a passenger under the train. Yep, that’s how matter of fact they announced it. We guessed it must happen all the time! So we caught the train in the other direction to Earl’s Court. We didn’t know what was there but thought, why not! We found a cute pub for beers and then a nice Indian restaurant for dinner (as we hadn’t had English Indian yet!). It was yummy indeed and there was Indian belly the next day either! After a pit stop to get yorkies, we were off to bed for our last sleep on holidays.

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Feed the birds?

Another rainy day in London Town. But that was no reason to stay holed up in the comfort of a warm and cosy hotel room. So off we went to see more of the city’s sights. We had to decided to do the first half of the day doing touristy stuff and the second half of the day exploring an area.

First up was Piccadilly Circus, London’s equivalent to Times Square where advertising has become a tourist attraction. Nonetheless, snap snap goes the camera.

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We then strolled over to Trafalgar Square. My memory from my last visit to London was the pigeons and the old homeless ladies and men feeding them – think Mary Poppins. For those who know Glenn well, you will know he has a pigeon phobia (which I now inevitably have). Neither of us can watch Masterchef when they cook squab and we hate when they fly overhead in large groups. So, we were surprised to see that feeding the pigeons was now banned! See how happy Glenn is about this!

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Next stop was Leicester Square and Covent Garden to check out the markets, shops send oversized Rudolph the Reindeer!

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After lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Soho, we went to the London Eye. Whilst it may just be perceived as an oversized Ferris wheel, it wasn’t around when Glenn and I visited last time so we thought it fitting to go on it. Of course, when we visited it was raining. In the end, the a Eye was quite cool. The view was great (would have been better with less rain) and the actual Eye is an amazing architectural structure. Happy we did it!

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Finally stop before dinner was Liverpool Street in East London to check out the Brick Lane and Spitalfields Market. It was a very cool area with lots of vintage shops, one-off boutiques and….. Drumroll please……record stores. Glenn could have stayed all night but we needed to get ready for a much overdue evening to catch up with Carolin and Alison in Chelsea at The Pig’s Ear. For new friends, Carolin was one of our beautiful bridesmaids at our wedding (who flew from Germany to London to catch up with us) and Alison completed the three amigos before she sadly left us for exciting London. It was so wonderful to see them both – it felt like yesterday that we last caught up and both were looking gorgeous and doing well. Counting down to seeing them again.

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A rainy day in London!

Arrived in London this morning to be met by typical London weather – rain and grey skies. The trip from Edinburgh to London is only a 1.5 hours flight but the checkin process felt like we were travelling international with all the security checks etc. And the travel time from London to our hotel took longer than our actual flight. Nonetheless, we made it to our B&B, The Lime Tree Hotel. It’s a cute boutique hotel/B&B located in Belgravia – basically the posh part of London where townhouses go for £15 million.

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We decided to get straight out and do things despite the rain. So we headed to see the Queen’s home, Buckingham Palace. We were lucky to be there to see the changing of the Queen’s Life Guard. This also meant there where thousands of people…. So much for being a quiet time of year to sightsee.

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We then walked along St James Park lake to Westminster Abbey. Now Westminster Abbey is incredibly impressive from the outside even after all the churches I have seen. It is absolutely massive. However, it also has a massive percentage attached to visit – £18 each (that’s $30 each). I am sure it is just as grand inside, but $60 is too much to see the inside of another church. So we left complaining about the cost. Maybe God heard because it then started to rain. Actually, not rain, pour! The nearest cover was a tree (with 30 other people). It only lasted 5 mins but in that time it hailed!! Yep,we got caught in a hail storm!

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After the rain, we took some pics of Big Ben and the House of Parliament – another impressive building – as well as the London Eye and the Thames.

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At this point we were hungry, wet and needed a break so we had a pub lunch and then went back too the room for a rest.

Tonight, we caught up with Jacqui and Keiran. Jacqui and I met on a tour travelling through China in 2005 (along with Mike and Katie). Whilst it had been 6 years since we had last seen each other, it felt like yesterday. We had such a great time and one of our classier meals on the trip at a brilliant restaurant, The Botanist.

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We really did try….

Today started as all days should – French toast, bacon and maple syrup. When I said the French toast the other day was good, I meant it!

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We were planning on a shopping day today but decided we should do some sightseeing first. “Some” turned into about 7kms of walking.  Our apartment was located in Leith, about 2 miles from the old town. So, we decided to walk in along the “Water of Leith” walkway. This is basically a pretty walk (most of the time) of the towns leading into the city. One interesting find was an abandoned cemetery that is closed to the public with headstones either piled up or scattered around the place. Very creepy.

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Upon reaching town, we continued to Dean Village. The buildings along the walk were so pretty.

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Dean village is a former village immediately northwest of the city centre and was a successful grain milling area for more than 800 years. At one time there were at least eleven working mills there, driven by the strong currents of the Water of Leith. Now there are no mills but instead a quaint village tucked away with 10 mins to H&M and Zara.

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So, given the mention of H&M and Zara, Glenn and I divided to conquer the post-Christmas sales. Outcome? Not great. I got me a pair of boots in the 11th hour for a steel but otherwise zilch was purchased. I was very disappointed as I was up to spend, even with the horrible exchange rate. The best catch of the day were some of the photos I took between shops!

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To make up for the lack of purchases, and given we were leaving in the morning, we treated ourselves to a trip on the Ferris wheel and a hot apple toddy.

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Home to pack and have a quiet meal as we have to get up at 4am to fly to London – our last stop before flying home…sadnes…but excitement to see everyone at home.

The start of the res(v)olutions?

Happy 2014 to all our family and friends. 2013 was a mixed bag with lots more sweet than sour – Glenn and I are stronger than ever, I had a much needed career change, Glenn got a redundancy, we got Rosie the dog but I also had some back setbacks (mind the pun). 1st of January is the start of 2014 New Years resolutions. Do you have one? Perhaps you have more than one? Maybe to lose weight, get healthy, exercise regularly, stress less, be more spiritual, save more? I have decided to not make any this year as it requires an assessment at the end of the year which usually shows failure. Instead, I will try and be a better person (no snide comments required, thank you very much)! How did I start this today? By letting Glenn decide where we have breakfast. Haha. Well I had to get us back on track with our holiday!

2014 started with more sightseeing of the beautiful city of Edinburgh. First up was Calton Hill which is home to the Scottish Government but also includes several iconic monuments and buildings such as the National Monument and the City Observatory. It also offers stunning views of the city of Edinburgh and Arthur’s Seat, a mountain which sits behind Edinburgh. On the way down, we stopped at a really old and interesting cemetery.

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Next up was Holyrood Palace which is the official residence of the Queen when visiting Scotland. We didn’t go in as it was $25 each!!!!!!! Now we know how they could afford such extravagant gifts from Prince George. image

Before breaking for afternoon beers we strolled along the Royal Mile and some off-streets. There are so many pretty streets and buildings you could snap away all day.

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This afternoon we caught up with a Scottish mate, Kev, who lived in Sydney for a year back in 2008/2009. Kev and his friends welcomed us very generously by shouting us beers and a tour of some local bars. Great times were had! Note the photo of Glenn in the phone booth. This is not just for the photo – he’s using the phone to call Kev!

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That’s a wrap for day 1 of 2014!

Happy Hogmanay!

We arrived in Edinburgh last night and caught a taxi to the apartment we hired on airbnb, where the owner was going to meet us. All was going smoothly until we reached the building and realised that we hadn’t been provided the apartment number. This caused a little chaos as neither of us had international roaming on our phone. Quick thinking saw us rush into the local pub (why waste any time having a drink?) which had free wifi and shot out some emails. Fortunately they were online and we were in the apartment in no time. The apartment was great – very arty like Munich – but we have a tendency to pick them in dodgy looking buildings.

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Today was New Year’s Eve. After a well deserved sleep in and a long lazy breaky (and the best French toast I’ve ever had), we meandered into the city centre. The city is very grand. The old town’s main street (the Royal Mile) and the castle sit high above the new town. The city is very historic and well laid out with long corridors of streets to explore.

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We visited the castle today which was built in the 11th century and offers great views over Edinburgh. Whilst we’ve seen our fair share of castles on this trip, this one looked and felt older. Or maybe it was the excitement of the pending Hogmanay celebrations that made everything look good today!

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After the castle we strolled along Princes Street in the new town and the Edinburgh Christmas markets. Whilst not as good as Central Europe’s Christmas markets, they were a million times better than Paris.

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Back home we went to get ready for the Hogmanay celebrations. I have to say that my attire was completely opposite to what I would normally wear on New Year’s Eve in Sydney. That is, a skimpy party dress versus thermals, fur lined boots, gloves, beanie, scarf….

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After dinner at a local pub (1 beer for me, 2 for Glenn – this is important for later) we headed into Princes Street for Edinburgh’s Hogmany. For those not familiar with Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, it is basically a street festival with different music acts playing. The acts are usually Scottish bands. This year, Pet Shop Boys were headlining. The party was already pumping when we arrived. There is not much to say except:

1) the music was great (we saw The Chvrches and Pet Shop Boys),

2) people were in awesome spirits. Everyone smuggled boozed (except us) yet we saw no brawls, fights etc. very unlike Sydney

3) you could not buy drinks easily. I had 1 drink at the festival and Glenn 2 thanks to lack of bars. It was my most sober NYE ever with a maximum of 2 drinks consumed all night.

4) the fireworks off the castle were stunning.

Here are some pics from our awesome night of ringing in the new year (courtesy of Glenn).

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Living in the past?

This post is titled “living in the past” as it aptly describes today’s activities. We started the morning with our traditional breakfast….

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… and then drove into Bath to check it out. Now let me set the scene. We had come to Bath because I had such fond memories of visiting in 1999. My memories were of an old quaint village, a beautiful bridge, etc. But on this particular morning, it was pissing down raining, we had trouble finding parking and we were still bitter about last night’s B&B struggle. So Bath was not as pretty as I  remembered. But also, it seemed so much more touristy and built up. That’s not to say Bath is not beautiful. It is. But I guess I was living in the past.

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Having said the above, the Roman Baths were still fascinating for such an English Town. Hard to imagine Romans living in England.

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So who’s past would be reliving next? Glenn’s of course. Next stop on the agenda was Glastonbury to relive 1998. Obviously it is difficult to recreate a festival in December when it is usually held in summer. However, Glenn kept a very sharp eye on the fields of rolling grass to see if it was where he pitched his tent many years ago. However, to make the trip interesting we also visited Glastonbury Abbey, a former Roman city, as well as, Glastonbury Tor.

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Final stop before reaching Gatwick to catch our flight to Edinburgh was Stonehenge. Again, my memory was that you drive up right next to the rocks, get out and walk to 2mis to stroll through the rocks. But no. Things have changed. You now park 2 miles away, pay your entrance fee at a massive gate, walk 20 mins to get to the rocks, walk around the rocks (not through) and then walk back to your car. Well we weren’t bothered with that so we did what everyone else, took a photo from the car. Not bad methinks!

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Next post from Scotland!

 

Shakesbeers land

If I was hungry yesterday morning, today I thought I was going to eat my own arm. I was now back to 100% health and needed a full traditional English breakfast. Where does one go to get it? The pub. Yep, we had breakfast in the pub this morning. That was a first for both of us.

After breaky we explored Stratford-upon-Avon. Whilst this town is much bigger than the Cotswold villages, it still had a English town charm. It had the black and white old buildings, thatched roofs and a river running through it.

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Stratford-upon-Avon is also famous for being the home of William Shakespeare. We visited his birthplace, his wife (Anne Hathaway’s) cottage, his daughters home, and the church he is buried. It is quite poetic that the Royal Shakespeare Company – which performs his works – is built within eyesight of the church he is buried.

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Next stop was Blenheim Palace. It is one of England’s largest houses and was built between 1705 and circa 1722 and sits on 20 acres. Blenheim Palace was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The palace is usually open to the public but is closed over winter with only the gardens open. Nonetheless, it was stunning. So big it is hard to imagine anyone living in it. 

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We stopped at Burton for lunch, a cute village on thy edge of the Cotswolds. We had roast beef and beers. What I love about these villages is the cute houses. They are so small you wonder how they fit into them!

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After lunch, we headed to Avebury. Apparently purists go to Avebury and not Stonehenge. What is Avebury? It is a Neolithic henge monument containing three stone circles, around the village of Avebury. Avebury contains the largest stone circle in Europe, and is apparently one of the best known prehistoric sites in Britain (although I think Stonehenge is more famous outside Britain). Impressions? About as impressive as Stonehenge. You decide what I mean.

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Our final destination was Bath. And it was a nightmare trying to find somewhere to stay. The town centre was packed with no parking. The one we found 6 miles out of town was fully booked. The one that was recommended felt like the Bates Motel in that no one answered but the lights were on. We finally found a place called Aquilis Sulis where we got the cute annexure to the building. It was a real guesthouse owned by a family, it was cheap and was near a pub. Victory! Off to beers to recharge.

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