Kölsch and Cathedrals in Cologne

Once again I am completely convinced the best way to travel is by train. We had a lovely few hours on the train from Luxembourg to Cologne where we were able to read, nap, and actually use our phones to do a bit of research on things to do and of course, food to eat in Cologne (and receive a call from our credit card company asking us to pay off a bit of our balance – buying flights, a suit, and wedding ring adds up quickly). We also got to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the German countryside. We past cute little villages, lots of full camp sites along the Rhein, and even a few castles.

Walking out of the train station in Cologne, I was distracted trying to find our hotel when I was stopped by Matt pointing up and saying ‘Wow’. I turned around, had my first look at the Cologne Cathedral and it took my breath away. Knowing that the Golden Hour (sunset) was coming up and would give us some beautiful photos of the cathedral, we turned to quickly find our hotel and drop off our bags.

A little tired from our dramas of the morning in Luxembourg, we happily discovered our hotel room had a flash coffee maker. Matt quickly figured it out and we had a shot of coffee to keep us going for the rest of the evening.

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We then rushed back to the cathedral to take in its beauty. Now, I’ve seen a fair share of cathedrals since moving to Europe and I wasn’t expecting much from this one (this is where lack of research is actually a good thing – no expectations) but I was totally blown away. Not to talk myself up or anything but I did a pretty good job at capturing the moment in these photos (Golden hour really is the best light – hardly had to do any post production) and they still don’t do it justice. It really is something you need to see for yourself (hopefully the scaffolding is gone when you do).

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At this point, we were getting pretty hungry so we went in search of a restaurant serving good German food. You’d be surprised at how hard it can be to find local food in city centres as most restaurants cater for tourists looking for a quick, cheap bite. But after a little research on TripAdvisor we found a pub serving bratwurst and schnitzel. Sold.

We were also introduced to the local beer called Kölsch. It is always served in 200ml tall glasses and the waiters come around with full trays and keep giving you more until you’ve put a coaster over your empty glass to show them you don’t want any more.

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Kölsch is also the first glass of straight beer I’ve finished without Matt’s help. It was light and tasty – I may become a beer drinker yet!

The food was amazing at this place as well – Matt had the bratwurst, I had schnitzel, and they both came with delicious fried potatoes, bacon, and onions. So much yum! If you find yourself in Cologne, make sure you plan a dinner at Gilden im Zims.

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The next morning, we did a quick walking tour of the city centre and riverfront, drank more beer, and ate more schnitzel before catching the train to our 3rd country in as many days – The Netherlands.

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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…

Sipping Tea and Coveting Manolos

There are only 16 weeks left until we leave for the US/Canada and, of course, our wedding. The next time we have a full week at home will be 7 weeks from now since we decided to take advantage of all the public holidays coming up (which seemed like a good idea at the time but right now just looking at our calendar is exhausting). So, this past weekend, we forced ourselves to cross off a few more items on our wedding To Do list so we aren’t overwhelmed come June/July.

We ended up not doing too badly either! Matt ordered his suit from Cad and The Dandy on Saville Row (definitely recommend them if you’re in the market for a suit, so knowledgeable, helpful, and not at all pushy), I got my wedding band, and Matt has a good idea of what type of ring he wants now and just needs to order it. Also, what are peoples thoughts on a ‘sit wherever you like’ policy for dinner at weddings? Cause you know what’s not fun? Seating plans! All kidding aside, it took a while but that’s nearly done too.

Liberty

In between all the wedding fun, we decided to take part in one of the top things to do in London – have afternoon tea at Liberty. Liberty is a luxury (in every sense of the word) department store in Soho, just off Regent Street. It’s been around since 1875 and is built from the timber of two HMS ships. There’s also a plaque commemorating those who died in the building during the war. It really is a beautiful building and houses some equally beautiful (and expensive!) items. I even got to hold a pair of royal blue Manolo Blahniks I’ve been coveting ever since I saw them in the first Sex and the City film. But at £650, Matt didn’t let me hold on to them for too long!

At £35 for 2 people, the afternoon tea isn’t too crazy a price compared to the rest of the store. Out of the smorgasbord below, my favourite item was the scone – hands down the best one I’ve ever had (sorry, Mom!).

Afternoon Tea at Liberty

Afternoon Tea at Liberty

Here’s where I admit I’m not a huge fan of this kind of afternoon tea (besides the scones) because while tasty, it’s just a little bit on the bland side (maybe just a British thing?). However, it’s definitely something you need to do at least once while in good old Blighty.

Blacks UK and Explore Photo Competition

It isn’t often that I enter photography competitions but when I saw that Blacks UK and Explore had teamed up to present this one with the chance to win £2000 to spend on travel with Explore, well. It was a no-brainer!

So, here are my photo submissions. Now, excuse me as I go drool over this tour and send ‘PICK ME’ ju ju vibes to the judges.

Epic

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Panoramic

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Edfu

Wild

Tiger

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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!

The Year That Was and the Year Ahead

2013 was quite a busy travel year – 10 new countries, 10 more things crossed off our 100 Things List, and countless new memories and stories. The saying is true – Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.

January
We went to Bruges then Mons to visit my cousin, Carrie. We had a great time drinking fruity beer, climbed the Belfry Tower, and toured some of the Canadian and NZ war memorials and cemeteries.

Belfry and Grand Palais

Caterpillar Cemetery

Vimy Ridge

February
Quiet month around London – went to Viva Forever with some girlfriends, Matt’s work moved into the West End and I upgraded my camera!

March
I finally went to Ireland for the first time even though I’m a citizen with a passport. We went to the Guinness Storehouse where I managed to get through a 1/4 of a pint before handing it over to Matt and spent the rest of time with friends, eating potatoes and celebrating St Patrick’s Day.

Guinness Storehouse

Flags

Two weekends later we spent Easter weekend in Copenhagen and did a day trip to Malmo.

Nyhavn

Little Mermaid

Hot Chocolate

Turning Torso

Malmo

April
Paris totally won us over with the great weather, amazing sites, and the best baguette we’ve ever had.

The Louvre

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Notre Dame

Picnic at the Eiffel Tower
May
We moved into our very own flat and while we’ve had a few issues with it, we still enjoy living in it. Shortly after moving, we went on a trip that I’ve looked forward to my entire life – Egypt (part 1, 2, and 3) – and it didn’t disappoint. Each trip has been so different that it’s hard to compare them all but this was definitely in my Top 3 (so far!). So many amazing sites it’s hard to pick only a few photos!

Camel riding at Giza

Sunset at Kom-Ombo

Edfu

June
This month was spent hanging around London as we both settled into new jobs/roles. I surprised Matt with dinner at Amaya for his birthday, we went to London Zoo late night, and saw the musical, Once.

Using his hands at a fancy restaurant....

Tiger

Date Night

July
Lisbon will forever be known to us for it’s food. We ate some pretty amazing meals as well as cupcakes and gelato. Between the eating, we did manage to see a few sites – the aquarium, Cascais (dipped my toes in the Atlantic for the first time), Sintra (later found out our favourite show, The Amazing Race, used this spot as a check in a few weeks before we were there), and walked all around the city itself.

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August
One of my favourite months because my Mommy came all the way from Canada to visit and be with me as I tried wedding dresses on for the first time (and got to see me in the one I eventually bought). I didn’t realise how important it was for me that she be here for that experience until it was actually happening. We took this opportunity to go to Glasgow for the weekend to see the house where my Grandma and Great Aunts grew up.

The house my Grandma and Aunts grew up in

A week after Mom left, we made our way to Spain for an epic 10 day trip in Barcelona, Valencia, and Ibiza. There were water & wine and tomato fights, amazing sites, and very late nights. Also, the most amazing food and sangria. It was a good trip but we were so tired by the end of it!

Sagrada Família

La Tapas

Water and Wine

La Tomatina

Pacha

September
Oh, Croatia. This was one of our favourite trips because we were able to totally relax. We spent some time hiking Plitvice Lakes and taking in the incredible scenery before heading to the coast to spend a week on a yacht. I would go back and do the same trip every year if we could. It was the perfect end to our summer…I can’t even describe just how awesome and relaxing it was. Croatia wins as my favourite European country.

Plitvice Lakes

Plitvice Lakes

The Crew

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October and November
All this travel does catch up with you eventually, mostly in the form of extra weight from all the delicious food. So, we took on the Whole30 challenge for the month of October. It was hard but awesome and it’s safe to say, we’re converts. We’re currently on Round 2 and I’m left wondering why we ever ate processed crap in the first place. I could really go on and on about the benefits but I’ll let you read my guest post on Naturally Leah instead!

December
Work Christmas parties were both a hit with air guitar at Matt’s and winning employee of the year at mine. This was our first Christmas just the two of us and we had a great day watching movies, opening presents, and eating fudge and gingerbread men. Cath and Jono came over in the evening after spending the day at her sister’s so it was nice to have their company.

Oh my word. We are awesome

I won employee of the year. I was so surprised that I could barely get out a thank you. Going to save this for a very special occasion...

Port, chocolate, and our Christmas tree. #goodday

Our last trip of the year was to Vienna for the Christmas markets and they did not disappoint! I have no idea what you’d do in Vienna if you didn’t go in Winter – there were Christmas markets everywhere!

Mulled wine at Am Hof

Bretzels

Rathausplatz

This next year won’t be nearly as trip-filled as we have our wedding in August to save for look forward to! Hard to believe we only have 6 months until we kick off our Epic Wedding Trip….time sure does fly.

In addition to our wedding, we will be spending Easter weekend in Luxembourg, Cologne, and Amsterdam. Yes, you read that right – 3 countries in 4 days. We had to make up the lack of new countries this year somehow! We’ll also be attending a wedding in Ireland in May, might spend a long weekend in Paris, and are looking at having Christmas in Finland. So, a little bit quieter than we’re used to but it will also be the best year yet!