A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: benheidi

Switzerland

sunny 28 °C

Hi all!

After a fabulous three weeks in Italy, we caught a train from Cinque Terre to Lucerne, via Madrid. Our train from Madrid was late (or "retardo" in Italian), making us miss our connection to Lucerne. This was totally Trenitalia's fault, but never the less, the Swiss rail company looked after us, were very apologetic, and even gave us chilled bottles of water! A very nice thing to do and very Swiss (we were put in a similar situation later on... more below).

We arrived in Lucerne after travelling alongside the stunning mountain ranges, lakes and Swiss towns. The train station in Lucerne is in such a great location - it's right on the lake and in between the old and new towns!

Our hostel, Lucerne Backpackers, was great - it's in a very peaceful location, has a great kitchen and is 1 minute from the lake and 10 minutes from the old town.

We spent our three days in Lucerne...
- getting Thai takeout on our first night that was cooked by a tiny Thai lady - it was delicious and so good to have Thai food after a very long time without it!
- strolling around the city and visiting the monuments. We saw the two main bridges - Chapel Bridge and Mill Bridge - (one of which had medieval paintings on wood of skeletons in Switzerland), the Lion Monument (that was built in honor of the Swiss Guards who died fighting off the French revolutionaries who stormed Versaille in search of Louis XVI and Marie Antionette), the city wall and its many towers, different churhes, and the very quaint old town.
- enjoying the fresh food market, where we bought homemade jam (a concoction of apricot, peach & nectarine) from a nice old lady, vegetable bread (so yum! It was a dark brown roll with carrot, onion and zucchini throughout it) and two massive bratwursts that we cooked later on.
- eating really yummy tuna salads by the river as multiple swans and ducks swam/played around us.
- cooking a massive feast of very random dishes. We made vermicilli and brocolli in a chicken broth, an omelette and also the bratwurst. It was a strange combination, but it was very delicious!!
- playing frisbee in the park opposite our hostel. The Swiss are so active - there were so many bike riders, swimmers, volleyball players, soccer players, rollerbladers in the park (and all over the city).
- being thrifty and figuring out that it would be cheaper to by a Eurail pass for travel in and between Switzerland, Spain and France! :)

Lucerne is a beautiful city! There's a certain feeling that you experience in Switzerland - it's like everything around you is working effortlessly and perfectly. The Swiss are so friendly and like to help you if they can!!

Our next stop was Grindelwald, a gorgeous town in the Swiss Alps.

We caught a train to Interlaken, then took a Jungfrau Region train to Grindelwald. This train ride was great - the train climbed the mountains steadily, the views were amazing and the fresh air was eagerly welcomed! At one stage our train stopped for about 20 minutes due to a faulty train ahead of us - the attendant was so apologetic and spoke to each passenger! When we arrived at Grindelwald it was too late to catch a minibus to our hostel and we approached the attendant solely for information on how to get to our hostel and she said "We will pay for a taxi for you. Leave it to my company." So nice, generous and caring!!

We stayed at Grindelwald Backpackers, which is a really nice place and is like a chalet. They had the best breakfast too - and because it was all you can eat, we sneaked a few sandwiches out for our lunches when hiking :) There was homemade yoghurt, nutella, ham, cheese, hot chocolate, orange juice, and rye bread. Yum!

In Gridelwald, we...
- hiked up to First, which is 2168m above sea level. The hike was so fun, but very tiring! We walked past many traditional-looking wooden cabins/houses, through mini-forests, past farm houses and even past a little waterfall. Thankfully, there were fresh water taps along the way where we could fill our water bottles :) There were many older couples walking who were decked out in hiking gear and even had cool hiking poles... We imitated these and found big sticks along the way - they really helped with the hiking!!
- at the top of First there's a massive flying fox called First Flyer - we did it! It was really fun, fast and we took a video of our ride.
- ate "horny chicken" at a restaurant on the main street :) True story.
- had really nice polenta and beef stew at our hostel
- enjoyed the magnificent views from our room's balcony and on the hike. The mountain tops are still covered in snow in summer, with blue-ish sections in the valley parts of the mountain showing snow melting
- drinking the nicest, natural spring water at our hostel - they had a direct pipeline to the springs!!! So good!!!!!!!!!!!

Switzerland is a beautiful country and we were so impressed by it and enjoyed every minute of it!

Next up: France! We caught a couple of trains to get to Aix-en-Provence :)

Until next time...

Hope you're all well!!

Posted by benheidi 11:32 Archived in Switzerland Comments (3)

Three weeks in Italy

sunny 30 °C

Hi all!

We hope you're all well!! Be prepared, this is a big entry - we've had time on buses and trains to make notes on our travels... Let's get started...
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We arrived in Rome to a bright blue sky and a hot sun!! The airport train to the city is called the Leonardo da Vinci Express - cool!
Last time we were in Rome we had so much fun - strolling around the city & its ruins, watching movies, eating great food, randomly ending up at the Trevi Fountain - so we were really excited to return to one of our favourite cities!!

We spent our time in Rome like this...
- on our first day, we decided to stroll around the city. We saw the ruins, the colesseum, & the trevi fountain.
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- the second day we started early. we had a full day in Rome and decided to see as much as we could. Our first stop was the Trevi Fountain again -we love this place & it's nice to get in early before the crowds.
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We had delicious espresso at a very local cafe in trastsvere, a funky gothic area across the river.
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This part of Rome is very different to central Rome! Lots of bars & cafes. It's cheaper here too, however it's a bit further out. Nevertheless, we both agree we'll stay in trastavere next time.
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For lunch we went to campo de fiori - a lovely market square. Phenomenal nectarines! Delicious, fresh, warm foccacia with fresh boccincini (just beautiful) & incredible proscuitto - oohhh the proscuitto is to die for!
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Then later on, we spent the afternoon wandering around the Spanish steps.
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Ciao Roma! Until next time!

We had a 7am flight to Palermo - an awkward time to leave Rome if you ever have to... We couldn't afford a taxi and the airport train didn't start early enough, so... we had to catch a night bus at 3am!!!!!!!!!! Painful!!!!

We arrived in Palermo in around 1 hour - such a short trip.

Sicily, reknowned as the birthplace of The Godfather... When we were waiting for our luggage at the airport in Palermo, a mobile phone rings... and it's the Godfather theme song! True story.

Palermo is a big city and is like no other we've ever been to. The streets are filled with cars, motorcycles, buses, & rubbish. The buildings are all grey/black & baroque. There appears to be no road rules, i wouldnt recommend driving in Palermo! It also seems to be a lot more multicultural than the rest of Italy (lots of Arabic & black African people), and it has a certain buzz that is truly unique.

We spent one night in Palermo as a stop over, but we really enjoyed ourselves there!

Some of the things that we did:
- swarmed to the 3 fresh food markets, including the one that Jamie Oliver went to in his Jamie's Italy series!! We had lunch there, which included a baked ricotta and herbs/chilli slice - the most delicious thing we have ever tasted!!!!!!! Seriously, words cannot describe how incredible it was!
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- roamed around the streets of Palermo and saw: the harbour, many churches & fountains, & the old museum building (very grand & beautiful)
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- we had our first gelati in Sicily - ben had a briosch with melon and baccio - soooo creamy, refreshing and cheap!! Heidi had a cone with berry yoghurt flavour (divine) & peach (so amazing & authentic!)
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- we had dinner at a restaurant near one of the markets and the church - a lovely waiter & owner. Spaghetti ragu, pesto with almonds, & chicken breast with a citrus & boccincini sauce. Beautiful!
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The next day we caught a bus to Syracusa, which is on the south-east coast of Sicily. Our friends, Rosa & Michael, told us about this gem and we are so glad we stayed there!!
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Syracusa is a big town, its size is probably comparable to a combined St Kilda and Elwood. There is a part of Syracusa that is a little island and it's called Ortygia. This is where we stayed.

We arrived at the bus station and had no map and not much information... We received some general directions and found our way. The walk from Syracusa to Ortygia is quite interesting. You start off in what looks like an industrial area, but as you make your way along the main road to Ortygia, the buildings become prettier. After about 15 minutes you reach the main bridge that connects Ortygia to the mainland. It is absolutely beautiful! There are yachts, small boats, fishing boats and bright blue seawater. Stunning! The smell of salty seawater is divine! Boy is it hot - ~30 degrees, but it feels hotter than 30 back home. Ortygia is absolutely breathraking, both aesthetically and in its lifestyle.

We managed to bargain with an aparment owner and stayed in our own 1 bedroom apartment with a phenomenal kitchen and bathroom!! We got it so cheap! Our very own apartment for 6 days!
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We spent our blissful days in Ortygia doing...
- shopping at the local fresh food market, bartering with fruiterers, fish mongers and cheesemen. It was so much fun! We were like locals after a few days. There was an abundance of bright red tomatoes, plump peaches, apricots, cheeses, herbs, chilli, freshly baked breads, and of course, beautiful fresh seafood (tuna, squid, calamari, prawns, & loads more)!!!!
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- cooking meals in our awesome kitchen! This was the best fun!! We cooked: flake burgers with homemade garlic aoli; prawn, lemon and chilli pasta (the biggest, fleshiest, sweetest prawns we've ever had! Cheap too.); homemade pesto (basil & pinenut) with pasta (delicious! - our first attempt, too. We were quite impressed with ourselves); fresh fish with beautiful caprese salad & bread with olive oil & rock salt; & prawn, chilli and lemon risotto. Lots of Italian vino, too! Even the cheap stuff is amazing!
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- eating at beautiul restaurants. Some of the highlights include a fish lasagne, & pasta with sardines, zucchini and breadcrumbs (Syracusan speciality).
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- chilling out at the swimming spot in Ortygia - this small, rock island where all the locals hang out. We had a few picnics here too!! The water was so clear, sparkly and blue!! All the kids jump in off the big rock. Lots of fun!
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- running around the island in the mornings (mainly Heidi), & taking in the beautiful sea views & smelling the sea air
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- seeing the churches, state buildings and cute houses around Ortygia. The council had recently completed a massive clean up of the main buildings and square, so everything was incredibly white! Thankfully we had sunglasses!!
- eating gelati!!!! We had the best cinamon gelati here - such a refreshing flavour!! Other standout flavours were dark chocolate (so dark it was black! Very delicious & richly coco-y) & lemon (refreshing & icy, not too sweet).
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- seeing the Archaelogical Park where there are Roman ruins, including a theatre stage, caves and an ampitheatre.
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- visiting another swimming beach...with sand! We ate left-over cold pesto pasta - SO yummy! The water here was also crystal clear and quite warm too. Beautiful!
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After 6 nights of a relaxing and food-filled experience in Ortyigia, we had to leave via Palermo and make our way to Tuscany. Ortygia really was a highlight!! So far on this trip, Ortygia has been our favourite place. All the cooking, seafood, beaches and relaxed lifestyle have made us fall in love with his part of the world!!

The train system in Italy is very reliable and quite cheap. After we arrived in Rome from Palermo, we caught a train to Poggibonsi (a small town in the Sienna prefecture). We had time to burn here, so we had a look at the main square and their main church. Both are very nice and a great introduction to Tuscany.

Then, from Poggibonsi we caught a bus to San Gimignano - a beautiul, walled city perched on the crest of a hill, and our home for 6 nights!

On the bus ride we saw vineyards and huge properties that reminded us of Red Hill - it is such a wonderful part of Italy. So picturesque. Exactly what you imagine Tuscany will look like.

Some call San G the medieval Manhattan because of the towers (13 are remaining) that poke up into the sky from within the walled city. A lot of tourists arrive during the day, crowding the shops and streets, then leave in the afternoon, letting the city breath.
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We stayed in a room with a shared kitchen (but no one to share it with :) ) within the walled city in a perfect location.

We spent our time in San G....
- cooking spaghetti bolognese (with pici pasta - a type of thick-is long but curved pasta typical of Siena. Kind of like a fat linguini, but not as long.), pan fried chicken with a tomato sauce, & lemon risotto!
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- visiting Siena - a lovely city, but very big. Gorgeous main square, yet not as pretty & quaint as San G. There's a church on the ourskirts of the city walls that houses a saint's head (dating back to the 14th century) - eerie! Also, Ben bought the first Harry Potter book from one of the many bookstores - he's addicted and has since bought many more!
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- enjoying the festivities over the weekend in San G. There was a medieval festival taking place. Lots of men in tights, trumpets, drumming, dancing, flag throwing, tug of war, ball throwing, story telling, pork rolls & watermelon! Quite cute & a bit of fun!
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- eating gelati from the best (self-proclaimed) gelati store in San G. Lots of photos of the owner with damous people (including Jamie Oliver and Thorpedo) hung on the walls! The gelati was very nice, especially mango, but it wasn't the best gelati we've had... being gelati connoisseurs and all :p
- hiring a red Vespa, town hopping through Tuscany to get to Cortona (in the Umbria prefecture) and riding on a freeway in heavy rain (having to hold on tighter whenever a truck passed)!! We're still unsure if this was legal. We rode for a total of 8 hours - our bottoms were very sore that night! It was so fun and definitely a day we'll never forget!!
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Cortona is a beautiful city and has found new fame thanks to the movie 'Under the Tuscan Sun'. There is a magnificent walk up through the tight roads to the highest point of the town where a convent is.
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- on our journey to search for an ancient Roman water fountain, we stumbled across a Tuscan vineyard ! It was so picturesue and we took a few photos here.
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- tasting Vernaccia, which is a white wine from San G - it is very tasty! Quite dry, very nice.
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- eating fantastic pasta at a restaurant recommended by our hostel owner. We had a trio of pasta dishes, which included a wild boar ragu with pappardelle, sausage and mushroom with pici, and an almond/basil pesto gnocci! Our favourite was the wild boar ragu - there were flavours there that we had never experienced with a ragu before!
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The next destination in Italy was Cinque Terre - we had to return to Cinque Terre on this trip because it is one of the prettiest places in Italy!

We found accommodation in Vernazza this time and stayed in a simple room on the main street... and our place was opposite the restaurant where we had fantastic seafood pasta on our last trip!! How lucky!?!!?!?!! More on this restaurant is below.
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Vernazza comes in as the equal best townof Cinque Terre (tied with Riomaggiore) because of its relaxed vibe, gorgeous, vibrantly coloured houses, enveloping cliffs, sandy beach, seaside church and fantastic restaurants!

We spent our time in Cinque Terre...
- relaxing on the beach in Vernazza and eating many a picnic at the beach
- hiking multiple times to Monterosso and Riomaggiore, smashing the recommended hiking times in half! The flora is beautiful, the terrain is steep and the views of the sea, cliffs, towns and vineyards are breathtaking.
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- each of us hired a kayak and kayaked along the coastline for an hour (we were very sore after this!).
- hiking to Monterosso to swim at their sandy beaches, only to find a smallish, beautiful section of the beach that was free to access (the main beach would have cost us EUR10 each - crazy!) The water was crystal clear and there was a funny sounding guy selling coconuts on the beach!
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- eating fantastic pizzas - our favourites include a margherita topped with moist, fluffy and melt-in-your mouth mozzarella, and a basil pesto pizza with the perfect balance of pesto and tomato base. Very basily and lemony! We typically ate these on a boat ramp leading to the water - fun! Oh, and the sunset was typically involved too - how romantic! :p
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- eating the BEST seafood pasta at our favourite restaurant in all of Italy!! When we first saw the menu we didn't see the squid ink pasta with shellfish that we ate last time, and were a little disappointed... but then, we noticed they had a specials board written only in Italian!! To our delight, the waiter told us there was a "batti batti" (like Moreton Bay bugs in Australia), squid ink pasta dish!! Yay!! It was so perfect!! We went to this restaurant twice - that's how good it was! They also have a great dish of the most al dente spaghetti, clams, mussles, olive oil and parsley! So simple, yet soooo delicious!! We also met a cool Canadian couple on one of the nights we went and chatted to them over dinner - fun!
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After about three weeks in Italy, it was time to move on to the next leg of our trip and catch a train to Switzerland!

We really love everything about Italy and we will be back!!

We hope everyone is well back at home and please email us/keep in touch via facebook - we love to hear about what's going on back at home!

Peace out,

Posted by benheidi 07:28 Archived in Italy Comments (3)

Prague

semi-overcast 16 °C

Hey again!

After 13 days in russia, it was time to fly to prague and meet up with justin and his mate matt!! we had been really looking forward to catching up with them!!

but, little did we know about what was to happen next...

we woke up at 5am (it was so bright, it was like it was 5pm - white nights), pumped up and ready to rock and roll in prague. it took a little while to find the bus to thge correct airport (there are two ter,inals that are about 15 mins apart by car), but we finally did and we were on our way!!

we arrived at pulkovo terminal 1 at around 7am...
heidi: "are we at the right airport?!?"
ben: "i swear we are... how come?"
h: our flight isn't up on the departures board..."
b: "shit..."
what we found out next was not cool!!!!!!!!
we found the closest information desk and discovered no one knew of our flight... turns out our flight was cancelled - however, we were never notified and the airport staff had no idea what happened to the flight - there wasn't even a 'cancelled' sign!! no recognition that it even existed...

we had to wait until 9am for the kdavia office to open, so we indulged and bought ourselves a coffee... which was as big as our heads (the smallest takeaway size available, haha). to cut a long story short, we ended up getting a new ticket on a different airline to prague - woohoo!! and, if you're thinking about flying with kdavia, think twice about it...

four hours later than originally planned, we arrived in prague to see a very familiar and friendly face!! justin kindly picked us up from the airport - and thankfully he did because he probably saved us each czk2000!

at the metro station...
justin: "we better buy a ticket for each of your bags. the whole time i've been here i've never had my ticket checked, but it's better to be safe"
ben/heidi: "awesome, we wouldn't have ever known to do that!"
later, on the train...
man: "tickets please" (in czech of course)

we learned that this was a classic 'casinader moment' - things like that always happen to justin!

prague is such a beautiful, gothic city - it's fantastic! this was the first city/country that we had entered and had already been there before. this time though, it was so great to see the city with a local (however, he is an expat, haha) and do things that we wouldn't have normally done or seen on our own!!!! justin and matt's pad is huge, new, centrally located and fully equipped- we got to put a load of washing on!!
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we spent our time in prague like this...

- on our first night, we went to this cool, nearby pub that served up a delicious meal and awesome beer (staropramen). we also met, for the first time, angus, one of justin's workmates/managers. on to the food... we both shared potato soup served in a bread bowl, then heidi had a traditional czech dish of beef pork and vegetables, and ben had pork spare ribs (probably three pigs worth!!). the waiter looked like he was buzzing on a high - he forgot to put matt's hamburger into the system and almost spilled two beers over us!!
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- on friday, justin had to work :( so we did our own thing during the day - we explored prague! we saw the new town, wencsleslas square, the national museum, old town, charles bridge, the jewish quarter, the astronomical clock and went up to the top of the clock tower for a birds eye view of the city. fun!
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- on friday night we met up with justin and matt and went to another local pub for dinner. great meals again!! heidi had a chilli, beef goulash-style dish, ben had a mixed grill called 'czech lovely grub' with various czech dumplings, justin had a HUGE kebabm and matt had about two tonnes worth of meat that were called 'collops'.
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later that night we all went to a fantastic, cosy, funky, little cocktail bar. it was like a smoke room - no laws in prague against smoking indoors. there was a british bar tender and she served j and m up long island iced teas and suggested a gin and grape cocktail for h and a corriander and vodka cocktail for b. they were perfect and full of flavour!!
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- on saturday we went to karlstejn castle - it was stunning! we caught a train there and walked up a hill to the castle, making a pit stop for a czech cinamon and almond doughnut/pastry and took a tour of the castle. it was built in the 14th century by king charles and, among other things, we saw his bedroom and a medieval toilet (basically an enclosed balcony with a hole in it)
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- on saturday night we went to a wicked mexican restaurant. b had tacos and enchiladas, h had a big chicken salad that the waitress recommended (great choice!) and j and m had burgers, one of which was called 'the coronary bypass'!! b wasnt well and went home early, but the rest of the crew ventured our unsuccessfully and ended up coming home to drink some russian vodka that we bought for j as a thank you gift... nice stuff!!
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- on sunday we caught a train to pilsen to see a brewery... if you love beer and want to play a little game, then take a moment to guess which brewery we saw before you read on......

we toured to the pilsner urquell brewery - a great tour!! we also had lunch at the brewery's restaurant - the food was ok and we witnessed true czech hospitality/service (j told us it is quite common for waiters to hate the sight of new customers)
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on our tour we saw their copper pots for brewing, their bottling warehouse (it was so big and sophisticated, but we didnt see it in action because it was a sunday :( ), a small section of their underground storage facility (it was 6 degrees down there) and the largest elevator in the czech republic. we also got to try fresh, unfiltered and unpasturised beer = so natural and delicious!!
on the way back to the train stations there was another casinader moment... it started pouring with rain and we had to make a dash for it... when we reach a tunnell near the station, justin started to reflect on his rain dodging skills...
j: "i think i did pretty well not to get too wet..."
SPLASH! a car drives through a massive puddle, drenching j, m and h! (ben was slower at running and it paid off!!) funny - just like in the movies!!
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- on sunday night we went to the best indian restaurant in prague. to start, we ordered samosas, onion baji and pakori. then we shared lamb vindaloo, rogan josh, chicken tandoor currym black dahl (cooked overnight)m rice and plain and garlic naan. it was all sooo delicious!!
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- we went back home and had shots of the russian vodka, saying our last "na zdravĂ­" (aka "cheers" "to good health" and it sounds like "nice driveway") and packed our bags unwillingly...

the next day we caught a plane to rome!!

we had such a great time in prague with friends and saw more of a city that we loved when we first went there in 2006! thanks again to justin and matt!!

we hope you're all well!!

peace out,

Posted by benheidi 13:31 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (1)

Russia!

sunny 27 °C

Hi everyone!

please excuse the very delayed update! in russia we had no computer that would let us upload photos. we've also been very busy seeing so much, so its been hard to find free time! we hope you're all well, and we love hearing from you. keep the facebook and email updates coming. we miss you!! we've been having a blast though! Here is a bit of info on what we did in russia.

russia was incredible! a vast language barrier - a huge change from the comfort of the uk. trying to find our accommodation at 11pm in moscow was eventful! quite a shock to the system. everything is written in cryillic (no english anywhere)! we had to try and turn the cryillic alphabet into letters (and words) that we could understand and easily memorise - this was quite fun. we did find our hostel eventually, with some help from a lovely pharmicist who walked us the 20 meters to where we needed to go - woops. hey, it's confusing with no english anywhere! all pharmacies are open 24 hous in russia too - odd! we stayed in moscow for 4 nights at the Lenin Hostel - which was basically like a mini hotel, which we were not expecting. we had a private twin room with a tv. so we got to watch rambo and richie-rich in russian - it doesnt get any better than that! haha.

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the highlights of our 4 days in MOSCOW:
- St Basil's Cathedral. such an amazing structure - like a gingerbread house. incredible architecture. ivan the terrbile (so terrible, so very terrible) blinded the architects after they completed it, so that they could never build anything as beautiful again. unfortunately it wasnt open on the day we were to see it, as they randomly closed it. not cool. oh well, from the outside it was simply spectacular!

- the red square. just being there after reading about it was surreal. we spent a while there, strolling in the sun, taking it all in.

- Lenin's Mausoleum - creepy! Heidi got told off for talking and "lingering". Ben thinks its a wax body.

- The Kremlin - not a lot was open, however we saw a couple of nice churches and a quartet of priests singing. it scared us when they first started - one of them had a loud voice!! we also spent time lying in the sun in the secret garden looking for 4 leaf clovers.
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- the state history museum. worth a visit, however not much english. we got to see some relics from 5000 BC, all the way up to Tsar Nicholas 2nd's time. pretty cool.
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- russian canteen style restaurants - Grimaldi's (as Heidi calls it. not sure of its real name) and Mu-Mu. we ate lots of borscht (delicious - hot borscht is better than cold borscht though) and beetroot salad. they love their beetroot here.
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- cool metro system. marble everywhere, and really really underground - seriously deep - very long escalator rides!

- the people. most people speak zero english, and there were frowning faces everywhere in moscow. we adopted this look on the metro to try and fit in and not look like tourists. it was fun.

- getting lost. kind of annoying, but still fun. you cant avoid it in russia - cryillic = not so easy to follow/memorise.

next we caught the train to St Petersburg. a 7.5 hour journey in a stinking hot train with only 1 window and no breeze. we were dripping with sweat. ew. the guy sitting opposite us kept giving us the evil eye. heidi tried to make friends with him by offerring him some biscuits. he declined, however we think that softened him up a bit.

we spent 8 nights in St P. we arrived at 8pm on a Wednesday, and the sun was high in the sky. we were here during the White Nights - where its bright basically ALL night. our first impressions were:
- beautiful city - stunning, colourful buildings (bright green and yellow and peach colours). quite a typical 'European' feel.
- smiling faces - quite a contrast with moscow
- english written beneath cryillic - again, contrasting with moscow (a welcome relief indeed)
- gorgeous weather - very warm and bright blue, cloudless sky (around 27 degrees every day).

we found our hostel - Zimmer Nice hostel, which is right off Nevsky Prospekt (the main street in St P). it was such an incredible location. 2 seconds from the palace square and the winter palace/hermitage. right opposite us was a great bakery too, where we bought dark rye grainy baguettes for breakfast every day - they love thier dark rye in russia, its the bomb (heidi thinks so)!

we spent our 8 days in ST P as follows:
- wandering around the gardens - the summer garden (the best - we had nice picnics here), the admiralty gardens, the field of mars
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- going for runs in the morning around these gardens and along the river neva
- exploring the hermitage museum - so much to see, so little time. a day there is not enough! it was amazing seeing the Tsar's quarters - the library was amazing. we also saw a real mummy! a mummified body from 1000BC. it had toenails! ew.
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- spending a day at the peter and paul fortress - a great museum there on the history on St P. we saw the tombs of Tsar Nicholas 2nd, his wife, and his daughters (they havent found his son's body or the other daughter's body yet after their murder in 1918)
- visiting the Leningrad blockade museum - incredible what those poor people went through. this museum is off the radar, however its well worth the visit and deserves more credit. the little old russian lady (who was said to be the english-speaker at the museum) spoke very little english (more like russian with an occassional english word thrown in for good measure), yet we appreciated her attempt at explaining everything to us
- seeing the russian ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre, twice! we saw the nutcracker and then swan lake (ben surprised heidi with tickets for swan lake. smooth! we had champagne. it was perfect). swan lake was especially outstanding.
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- eating blini - russian pancakes (like crepes) filled with various delights. we had ones with creamy muchrooms, ham and cheese, and also mince meat. we also tried chudu - another style of pancake, which was nicer. it was thin and flat, and filled with cottage cheese - it was so tasty. also on the topic of food, it must be noted that they are obsessed with mayonnaise and dill! they love them! they put them in everything!
- enjoying the sun - we both got thong tans - foot thongs.

so, despite the extra effort it took to get the visa and navigate our way around the language barrier, we are so happy we visited russia. it is truly an incredible country. it opened our eyes to a brand new culture. one doused with frowns, incredibly stunning buildings and museums, gorgeous parks, and mayonnaise and dill.

we'll add photos soon, and we promise to give more regular updates. we're yet to tell you about our fun in prague with justin and matt. we'll also update you on italy soon! (rome, sicily and tuscany so far - including a day on a vespa.)

Posted by benheidi 04:49 Archived in Russia Comments (4)

Scotland (with more detail!!)

semi-overcast 15 °C

Hi!!

We hope you're all doing swell!!

We had the best time in Scotland - sorry for not updating you all earlier - we struggled to find time to get on a computer whilst travelling around Scotland because we made a few friends, were always tired and were always managing to find something else to do (like explore!!)...

After arriving in Edinburgh on Sunday (17th May), we unpacked our stuff at the Castle Rock Hostel (highly recommended) and got ourselves ready for the free tour of Edinburgh operated by New Europe (they also do them in other major cities). We rocked up to the meeting point at 11am and went a' walking!! It was so great to hear of all the stories about Edinburgh and it's history, and to see all the main sites of the city. A few highlights of the tour were
- the story of the real jekyl & hyde
- the school that inspired hogwarts
- the princes st garden
- and of course, edinburgh castle - such an amazing castle. our hostel was right opposite it.
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We did a 5 day tour of Scotland with MacBackpakers (a tour company) and it was brilliant! we were 2 out of a group of 29 taken across the Scottish Highlands by our tour guide Neil (top bloke!!). we saw lots of lochs, lots of mountains (bens), lots of castles! we also ate haggis! very yum - like deep fried spiced mince meat! just try not to think about what you're eating when you take a bite. ben and another brave guy, Kyle from New Zealand (top bloke) swam in lochness! crazy - it was so cold! we did a hike one day up Storr mountain - so gorgeous, the view was breathtaking. we saw many battlefields and heard many stories about the english vs. scotland. we saw a william wallace monument. we also saw the bridge that was used in harry potter as the hogwarts express!
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we had lots of picnics by lochs, which was nice - especially when the sun came out. it didnt rain much, mainly the wind was just cold. we cooked dinner a couple of times in a group, which was fun! lots of mashed potato. some nights we went for a drink to the pub and listened to scottish folk music - and had a boogie, scottish style. one night we ate thai in a scottish pub - so random. a huge thai menu (like back in Melbourne) and all this scottish beer! everyone on the tour was really fun and friendly! we were really lucky to have Neil as our tour guide - eccentric and hilarious. he always had interesting and kooky stories to tell! he also wore a kilt. Ben misses Neil already.
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the people in scotland were really friendly - although when they speak gaelic to you its insane, they sound like they're talking jibberish, so you just nod and smile.

so we had a great time in scotland! we're in moscow now - our first day here. we'll do a full entry with photos soon (once we get to st petersburg probably - in a few days, as the computer here in moscow wont let us upload them properly). so far we love russia! we'll have lots to tell soon, with more regular updates. it was just difficult on the tour to have computer access.

anyway, peace out homies! we hope you're all well and wonderful! we're off now to hunt out some russian cuisine! bring on the dumplings russian style!

xo

Posted by benheidi 07:37 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (4)

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