Hiking Preikestolen

Our last trip to Norway was in the winter and was to Tromso way up in the arctic circle with snow, sunsets at 2pm and the northern lights.  We fell in love with the place and had been wanting to go back since and one of the items on our 100 things list gave us the perfect reason to go in spring:

78. Check out the view from Preikestolen cliff in Norway

Arriving on Friday night, we had our usual issue with getting off the bus at the right stop.  The announcements were all in Norwegian and it was dark so we couldn’t read any signs but we managed it eventually.  I had planned ahead and had the simple directions on how to get to our hotel printed out but it didn’t save us from spending half an hour getting lost.  Turned out we had taken all the right turns but had walked right past the big red carpet outside our clearly signposted Hotel.

At least we got a bit of a tour of the town.

Our room turned out great, it even had a fire going which we couldn’t figure out how to turn off.  We did figure out that it was fake after touching the cool glass in front of it.

Fireplace in our hotel

There was one main reason we were in Stavanger so we got up early the next day to set out for our big day of hiking.  The day started with a ferry ride to Tau from where we caught the bus to the start of the track.

Ferry to Tau

We got a great day for it with the sun shining without it being too hot.  Walking the actual track was great.  The track is a mix of boulders, wooden tracks, steep bits, gradual bits and the steep uphill bits never tend to go on for too long.  There was also some beautiful spots on the walk to relax by lakes and lookouts.

Hiking to preikestolen

Hiking to preikestolen

Hiking to preikestolen

Hiking to preikestolen

The real prize of the walk was when we got to the Preacher’s rock at the top, over 600 metres above Lysefjord Fiord below.

Sweaty from the hike up

Hiking to preikestolen

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At the top

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Trying to appear like I’m not terrified of heights!

I read afterwards that the crack through the rock plateau will one day break off.  Geologists are just happy that for now, it breaking off is still a long way away.  I wouldn’t like to be up there when that does happen though!

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After our tiring hike, we spent the rest of our time in Stavanger taking it easy.  We walked around the quiet old town area, ate some good food and finally managed to make some progress on the wedding planning (apparently the best spot for it is relaxing in a cafe with Wifi and nothing else to distract us for a few hours).

Stavanger

Stavanger

Stavanger

Stavanger Old Town

So after our second trip to Norway we fell even more in love with the country.  It is just as impressive in warm weather as it is in cold and the people, food and landscape are sure to draw us back there again sometime soon!

 

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Lucerne and Liechtenstein

We left Interlaken for more trains through more Alps. Our next stop was Lucerne which we were excited about mainly because it had been the last pit stop on the latest season of the Amazing Race.  Our research on Lucerne was limited to that episode of Amazing Race so the first spot we headed to was where the teams headed for their first clue.  The oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe and the world’s oldest surviving truss bridge.

Chapel Bridge

The original bridge was built in 1333 but its been through a few fire and rebuilding incidents since then.  It still feels ancient with some of the paintings on the interior dating back to the 17th century.  The best part of the bridge though?  It led over to a place on our little tourist map called Chocolate Land and our hotel had given us a little card that said we could exchange it there for free chocolate.  I like all free things really but free chocolate is up there.

Chocolate Land

By this stage of our Swiss adventure we were completely addicted to chocolate so we also had to load up on some extras.  All part of our master wedding diet plan where we shock our body with so much fatty food it gets so confused the weight just falls off.

Lucerne

We spent the rest of our time in Lucerne wandering around the old town area, along the river and the old castle walls.

Lucerne

Funny Statue

Some of the interesting local artwork

View of Lucerne from The Nine Towers

The week before we left for this trip Dayna had found out that we would be only a short-ish trip away from Liechtenstein.  From Lucerne all we had to do was catch a train to Sargans then jump on a bus across the border to Vaduz, Liechtenstein.  The border crossing was one of the less eventful we’ve had (we didn’t realise we had crossed the border until we started seeing Liechtenstein included in company names on buildings).

Once there we only had one main sight we wanted to see: Vaduz Castle.  The castle is still used as the official residence of the prince of Liechtenstein and unfortunately he didn’t invite us in for a cup of tea so we had to settle for the view from outside.

Luxembourg Castle

Luxembourg Castle

Luxembourg Castle

View of Luxembourg

View of Luxembourg

View of Luxembourg

Some people say Liechtenstein isn’t worth visiting at all and given its size, we didn’t feel we needed much more than a few hours in Liechtenstein but it was still good to see another piece of Europe.  And with the goal of getting to every country in Europe eventually, we need to take advantage of any easy border hopping trips we can!

After saying goodbye to Switzerland (for now, we’ll have to go back one day for the views chocolate) we had our next trip to look forward to:  an Irish wedding in Cork.

Wandering in Amsterdam

We arrived in to Amsterdam in the early afternoon and as we got out of the train station we were engulfed in a crowd of girls dressed up for a night out.  And when I say a crowd, I mean thousands.  All cycling around and parking their bikes in or by a huge parking lot of bikes (pic below). It was an interesting way to arrive but I still have no idea what they were there for.  There were no guys anywhere so I figure if it wasn’t a Justin Bieber or One Direction concert then it must have been a huge feminist cult meeting.  We’ll never know.

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We negotiated the skirts and bikes anyway and were enjoying the view from our hotel in no time.

Amsterdam. From our hotel room.

Amsterdam has a pretty unique layout with a series of canals snaking their way around the city and we were staying right at the edge of it.

Amsterdam

This is where we stayed and shows the unique lay out of Amsterdam

We had struggled to find accommodation and after a few failed attempts via AirBnb, we settled for Room Mate Aitana which turned out really nice if a bit expensive (we booked it back in our “we’ve got plenty of money for travel this year” phase…well before our current phase: “where did all our money go, we’re not going to be able to afford to eat at this rate”).

The bunch of girls on bikes that greeted us to Amsterdam were not the last bikes we saw in our time there.  When people say everybody bikes here they aren’t exaggerating.  Everywhere we went you had to watch out for speedy cyclists screaming past.  You could spot the tourists easy enough as they were the ones cruising around slowly getting in everyone’s way.  We chose to do everyone a favour and stay on foot.

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On our only full day in Amsterdam we planned on fitting in as much of the sights as possible.  We started the day with a stroll along the canals and found a great little breakfast spot where we got to play the classic travelling game of try and get rid of all the foreign currency’s coins before we leave the country.

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Yeah…don’t think the waiter was impressed even if there was a tip in there

We had made one big uncharacteristic error on Amsterdam though: we hadn’t researched and pre-booked tickets to the big sights.  If you go to Amsterdam, research the main tourist spots and pre-book tickets to beat the massive queues (a must for Anne Frank house, Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum etc).  We discovered how big of an error we had made when we got to Anne Frank house.  The huge winding queue of people waiting outside would have taken at least 2 hours to get through and as I said to Dayna at the time, I’d rather go sit in the sun and have a beer thanks.

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So we settled for snapping a photo outside Anne Frank house and moved on to the next tourist attraction of the day: the Van Gogh Museum.

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As close as we got to seeing inside Anne Frank house

Van Gogh has been my favourite artist for years and I’ve seen his work in New York and Paris so was really looking forward to this one.  On the way there we heard from a friend of Dayna’s whom Dayna had met back  in Australia about seven years ago.  Turns out she works at the Van Gogh museum and the lines outside were as big as the ones we had just left behind at Anne Frank house.  Lucky for us, she was on the inside and organised entry for us that let us skip the huge lines and join the crowds on the inside.

The museum didn’t disappoint either.  Although my favourite Van Gogh pieces weren’t there (they’re off at other fancy musuems like the Louvre and MoMA), there were plenty of good ones for us to enjoy.  Learning more about Van Gogh’s training and history was also great.  Its’ amazing how much he crammed in to such a short time (he took up painting very late in life) and also how little recognition he got in his time.  If he only knew how admired he would be maybe he wouldn’t have shot himself at 37 (although I don’t understand how he shot himself yet nobody ever found the gun!).

After leaving the Van Gogh museum we wandered along the canals further and detoured off for lunch and Gelato in the sun near the Heineken Experience, our next stop.

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The Heineken Experience is the original Heineken brewery converted in to a museum with loads of fun little videos and games throughout.  Once you make it through the museum you also get to taste the product so it is my kind of place.  We opted to skip a video in return for an extra few glasses of beer at the end of the tour so we ended up spending a while relaxing and people watching in the bar later.

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Me pouring the perfect pint (the video game version)

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Brewery horse!

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As a bonus, we also got a free canal ride that would take us over to the Heineken store in a nearby part of the city.  Taking a boat ride on the canal was on our list of things to do so that worked out perfectly.  Seeing a city from the water is always great so we enjoyed our little ride.  We also got to enjoy more free Heineken games at the store (and pick up our “free gift” which was just a branded glass).

Beer time.

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Playing with the toys at the Heineken store (I scored the goal in case you were curious)

At this stage of the day, we felt brave enough to venture over in to the seedy heart of Amsterdam – the Red Light district.  It seems like there are three crowds of people that visit Amsterdam: one lot there for the coffee shops (not for the caffeine!), one lot there to partake in the Red Light District and us, the travellers just there to see the city.  The Red Light district brings all those crowds together though as we were about to find out.

We were surprised to find young children walking along gawking with their parents as a “worker” offered their services from behind a glass door.  Not sure if I would do the same with children but each to their own. Anything to broaden their minds I guess.

After making it past all the sex museums, sex shows and sex tourists, we were oddly pretty hungry so started looking for somewhere to eat.  The problem with that is that a good chunk of the surrounding area was made up of only two types of place: coffee shops (that are billowing out smoke and offer all types of Marijuana), and shops that cater to the impaired customers of the coffee shops (so a lot of takeaway waffle places).  The coffee shops are everywhere and after a few minutes we got used to the pungent smell.

We had to walk for quite some way before we could breathe clear air and hope to find somewhere good to eat.  Falling back on the Tripadvisor city app as we usually do, we found a great Thai place for dinner (after finding a great Indian place the night before).  No waffles in site although we may or may not have gone and got a bunch of waffle biscuits after dinner.

And so ended our 4 day, 3 country Easter weekend.   I thought we would finish the weekend shattered and needing a break but we both just felt like keeping going and moving on to another country.  One day maybe.

Losing My Wallet in Luxembourg

We flew in to Luxembourg late on a Thursday night and were looking forward to a late dinner or at least finding a nice bar to have a glass of wine. Turns out everything closes pretty early in Luxembourg.

After negotiating the local bus (knowing when to get off in the dark was pretty hard), finding our hotel and wandering around for 20 minutes, we decided that everyone must have left or gone to bed that night. We had to settle for some cheesy bites and fanta at a Quick Burger as that was about all that was open.

We ended up having to just chill out in our hotel room but at least it was a nice one. Only issue was the slightly odd exhibitionist shower set up…

See through shower in our hotel room

We woke up bright and early(ish) to go to one of the top rated breakfast spots in Luxembourg (usual plan of find a place ranked highly on Tripadvisor and go there). Coming from London, we were expecting a few people as whenever a place has a half decent review it gets lines around the block so we were surprised to find it half empty. It seems sleepy and quiet are the best ways to describe Luxembourg.

After a peaceful, quiet breakfast at Golden Bean we started wandering around the Old Town.  The Old Town area of Luxembourg City sits up high with a sort of valley that runs around it so we started with checking out the view of the valley from a spot nearby.

Luxembourg City Cathedral

Valley

Valley

Valley

After checking out the view and the cathedral nearby, our first stop was the Tourist Information Centre to see what there was to do in this little city.  After chatting briefly to the guy on the help desk, we grabbed a map and were off on our own little walking tour (you can join a tour but they run at 2pm in the afternoon and we had a train to catch).

Valley

The Casemates of Luxembourg are the old, roughly 400 year old defenses that are mostly underground.  For 2 euro we did a quick little tour of them along with the 3 or 4 other tourists in the city at the same time as us.

Walls

The Casemates

The Casemates are the old stone buildings/wall on the left there

After that brief little bit of excitement (it was pretty tame really), we pretty much just meandered our way around the city.  Nothing seemed amiss as we strolled along in the sun enjoying the view.

Valley

Walking

But when we got back to our hotel room something was definitely amiss.  My wallet to be exact.  And I am the last person that should be losing a wallet.  Most people who have spent more than 30 minutes with me have probably seen me do my OCD pocket check dance (I basically have a compulsive need to tap every pocket every few minutes to make sure I still have my phone, wallet, keys etc on me).  So I was pretty surprised to find that despite my pocket check dance, I was now down a wallet (that contained a bunch of IDs, credit cards and cash).

After the original panic and swearing fit, I left Dayna to settle the bill at the hotel and took off on a much quicker tour of Luxembourg in reverse.  Well I would like to think it was quick but you can only run so fast in denim.

After a fruitless jog (at least I got some exercise in!), I got back to the hotel to start cancelling cards before we got directions to the local police station.  I completed the police report and detailed everything which then got translated in to a french police report for me to sign.  So with a heavy heart and light pockets, we set off for the train station as we were starting to cut it close on making our train from Luxembourg to Koln and needed some food first (losing your wallet makes you hungry).

We decided just to walk all the way to the station because the bus required coins and my recently departed wallet had all of our coins in it.  We were pretty much at the train station when I got a call from an international number.  It was a girl calling to explain that she had my wallet and I could come and collect it right away.  She spoke perfect English but when she pronounced the place where I should pick up my wallet I couldn’t understand any of it.

It sounded like:

“No problem, your wallet is safe with us.  Just come pick it up anytime at Flugellyboo Tickety-bucket”

I gave up and handed the phone to Dayna to see if she could translate Flugellyboo Tickety-bucket for me but she had no luck either.  We tried recruiting a shopkeeper who turned out didn’t speak any English before successfully convincing another customer in the store to translate for us (although it was quite funny when she asked what language we needed her to translate…just English thanks, we just don’t know the place name).  She spoke for a minute and eventually translated for us that the wallet was at a police station that was only 2 blocks away from us.

At this stage we were cutting it fine to get to the train on time so we got over there quickly.  Thankfully we managed to pick up my wallet (after an awkward conversation involving miming losing my wallet) and we made it back to the station quick enough to get on the right train.  We even had a chance to grab a bite to eat before jumping on board.

So after a night out in Luxembourg old town, a slow walk (followed by a swift jog) around the city and visiting 2 of the local police stations, we were on our way to Cologne/Koln.

Great to know the Luxembourg locals are kind enough to look after their tourists and hand in lost wallets.  They must not have trusted the police with the cash as they took that out before handing it back.  I’m sure an envelope with the cash will turn up in our letterbox any day though…

Reminiscing about South East Asia with a montage

It’s been almost 2 years since we left New Zealand and set off through South East Asia for two months. We went through Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand and at the time we thought we would struggle to live out of a suitcase for that long.  We thought wrong.

I think that trip was the best I’ve been on (which is a tough competition) mainly because it was longer and that allowed us to really soak up the place and relax.

We’ve been throwing ideas around of future longer trips we could take and also getting nostalgic for our trip; back when we didn’t have jobs, a lease on a flat or many possessions.  Life was simple and fun then (not that it’s particularly bad now though!).

We’ve been looking at buying a GoPro for recording some more travel clips along with other gadgets and have been wishing we took more video when we travel.  I spent a bit of time digging around on the computer and I found a treasure trove of video clips from our trip back in 2012.  Most of them are pretty poor quality (I’d like to blame our cheap little camera but mostly its my poor camera skills at fault).  We did manage to do up a bit of a montage of our trip anyway.

Hopefully we get back there one day as this video makes me miss the place!

Our 2014 Plans

We’ve been neglecting the blog a bit lately due to a combination of being busy, a little lazy and generally not having too much happening other than ordinary London life.  Multiple tube journeys and trips to the grocery store don’t tend to make an interesting read.

Our last trip away was to the Christmas markets in Vienna which was obviously too long because we got serious itchy feet.   I just got back from a weekend in Edinburgh for Craig’s stag do (couple of nice blurry phone photos below) but all this sticking in one place was getting to us.

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So before I went to Edinburgh, we managed to forget that we have a wedding this year and instead Dayna and I spent all our money on travel again.   In short time we filled up most of our spare weekends so we now have all of the following to look forward to:

  • April – Bristol (this one is a lads trip away for some English tourism for a change), and a train trip around Luxembourg/Cologne/Amsterdam (3 countries in 4 days – I think we might have been watching too much Amazing Race when we booked this one)
  • May – a train trip through the Swiss Alps with a daytrip to Liechtenstein (because, why not?), our friends’ Craig and Gerrie’s wedding in Ireland, and hiking up Preikestolen in Norway
  • June – my stag do (tbc but likely to involve somewhere in Europe that serves cheap beer) and a girls weekend away for Dayna (also TBC).
  • July – Dayna’s hens do
  • August – Vegas, Grand Canyon, Banff and the Rockies, Vancouver, Sunshine Coast, Victoria, Toronto, Niagara Falls, New York…and getting married somewhere in there of course
  • September – Dayna is going to a friend’s hens do in Sitges, Spain
  • October – Octoberfest in Munich, Dayna is staying home for this one (her choice)

So our year of not travelling because we’re saving for our wedding has still ended up involving trips to 12 countries (and maybe more…we’ll see).  We’ve also been discussing making it back to New Zealand in December maybe so hopefully that one pans out too .

In between booking all our trips for this year we’ve also been talking about whether we could do a much longer trip one day. So far our plans for “The Big Trip” haven’t got too far past mapping out some exciting routes but it is exciting to have something to day dream about when neck deep in spreadsheets and tax returns.  We’d love to be able to go for a year or longer but the first step is finding a way to get paid when travelling – any ideas let us know!

Weihnachtsmärkte in Vienna

Our trip to Vienna snuck up on me a bit.  I forgot about it until the week we were going so it was a nice surprise to remember a few days before we left.  This was our first venture in to a German speaking country so I was pretty excited to try out my German after a decade of not using what I learnt at school at all.  Turns out it’s pretty easy, unlike in France when I could barely get through ordering a baguette, I could comfortably order in German and understand what people replied back with.  Needless to say Dayna had to put up with me speaking German to her for the whole weekend as well even though she didn’t understand what I was saying.

We left work at midday to catch our flight to Vienna but by the time we made it to our hotel it was getting late.  After negotiating our Hotel’s ancient 100 year old lift, we ventured out to find a nice local restaurant for a late dinner and found some classic Viennese cuisine on offer.  If you count Mexican as classic Viennese cuisine that is.   We did have to order it in German based on a German menu though.  A couple of Quesadillas and Mexican beers later we were ready to crash to get ready for the Christmas markets the next day.

Made in 1913

It seems like someone has walked through Vienna and wherever there is space for it they’ve built another Christmas market.  Knowing that, our plan was to spend our time just walking around, criss crossing Vienna until we had been to all the markets but we started the day with a little journey out to Schönbrunn Palace where one of the further out Christmas markets was located.  It was also the final stop on an episode of a recent season of Amazing Race that we had watched so we were pretty excited to see another pit stop in person.

We were greeted with some perfect Christmas weather – our first snow this winter.  It might have been cold but it made drinking Glühwein (mulled wine) and eating Pretzel’s even better.

Bretzels

Adventmarkt in front of St Charles's Church

First gluwien

Schonbrunn Palace

Schonbrunn Palace Christmas markets

Dayna cringed at first when she spotted a big group of obviously proud Canadians plastered with Maples leafs and flags.  Instead of being a group of tourists though, it actually turned out to be a choir group all the way from Canada.

Canadian choir at Schonbrunn Palace

Neptunbrunnen

We kept on like we started for the rest of the weekend with regular mulled wines, bratwursts and pretzels at a string of different markets.  We also managed to get some culture in with the Albertina museum for a Matisse exhibit and getting stuck in the middle of a Ukrainian protest by St Stephen’s Cathedral.

Belvedere Palace Gardens

Stephansplatz demonstration

Mulled wine at Am Hof

The Albertina

St Stephen's Cathedral

Belvedere Palace

Cup Cakes Wien

Our favourite market was Rathausplatz market, right by our hotel.  We had heard a bit about the Rathaus markets from friends (Leah and Jase) that got engaged there and we ended up going a couple of times over the weekend.  We did manage to get in a bit of a fight with a bratwurst vendor there though.  I thought I had clearly stated that I wanted two of the large thick bratwursts but the Austrian vendor misheard and got two thin hotdogs ready despite my protests.  He then wouldn’t take no for an answer so we had to retreat in to the crowd to escape his wrath.  We ended up finding even better bratwursts (filled with cheese) around the corner from a nice cheerful Austrian so it turned out well for us.

Heart tree at Rathauspark

Guitar tree at Rathauspark

Rathausplatz

Rathausplatz

Rathausplatz

Rathausplatz

Rathausplatz

Rathausplatz

Rathausplatz

Rathausplatz

Rathausplatz

Vienna was pretty quiet and we didn’t spot a lot to do but the Christmas markets really made the city come to life.  It was such a happy family atmosphere at all of the markets that you couldn’t help being caught up in the cheery Christmas mood everyone was in.  We’re now hooked on Christmas markets so will be looking for another good spot to go next year. Vienna was unfortunately our last trip of 2013 and (for now) until April which is possibly the longest we will have gone without a trip since leaving New Zealand. We’re planning on doing things around London to keep us from getting cabin fever but there’s always the possibility we may crack and get a last minute deal somewhere. Unlikely though as we have a big trip (and our wedding) in August to look forward to! Our year in review post will be up soon (is it really that time again?) but until then, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!