Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Exploring Liverpool....Waterstones

More sleep-ins today! Yes! Once I surfaced we took the train into Liverpool Central and went for a lengthy walk. Then Sean headed off to The Beatles Story and I sat in Waterstones for four hours and read. Sheer. Bliss. I got up to use the toilet and eat fruit salad, but the rest of the time, I was holed up in a comfy armchair with a book. It was simply perfect. I then joined Sean for a wonderful pub lunch (late lunch!) before meeting up with Belinda, Andrew and Lucia to see a movie. We saw 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' and it was delightful. Wonderful cast, wonderful performances, a real, feel-good movie. And now we are back at the house, having more tea and conversation!! I could realllllly get used to this. I know Scotland will be fun, but I am really enjoying being in a house!

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Lazy days win at life.

Today we did our washing. Only those who have spent a week in their last set of clean clothes will fully appreciate how exciting this is, and now I have a whole batch of clean, dry clothes to wear out once more. I also read a bit, had a shower and washed my hair (another luxury), watched Skins and went for a walk to get some fresh air. Then Belinda, Andrew and Lucia took us out for a wonderful dinner and we came home for more tea and conversation! I officially adore Liverpool.

Liverpool :)

We are finally in beautiful, beautiful Liverpool. Why so beautiful? We're in a HOUSE!! Yes! The lovely Belinda, Andrew and Lucia are hosting us for five nights and it is just so nice to be in an actual house. More about that soon.

This morning we checked out of the hotel, went to the pub for breakfast and then bid adieu to the girls who were flying to New York today!! I'm going to miss them all a lot, but I know they will have a brilliant time. The day was then full of sitting around. We didn't have quite enough time to do any sightseeing or go far from our hotel or our train station, so we organised some photos and the like. Then at 4pm we took a train from London Euston to Liverpool Lime St. I slept for a lot of the trip, and on either end I had to seriously restrain myself from buying any books. Being in a country where all the books are in English is intoxicating.

Belinda picked us up, being the lovely, obliging person that she is, and we came back to their house (house, guys! A house!) and had pizza, tea, beer, biscuits and conversation before falling into bed at about 10.30pm. This morning we slept in until about 11am, and boy, did I need it, and today I plan to read, do washing, and lie on the couch. Utter. Bliss.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Last whole day in London (for now!)

I slept in today!! YAYYYY!!! Then we were up and ready for the day in time to meet the girls at the Churchill War Rooms at 1.30. That was an interesting experience and I really enjoyed it. You basically walk around the underground rooms that are more or less as they were during WW2 and you are in the nerve centre of the political response to the war. You could see cabinet meeting rooms, the map rooms, the sleeping quarters (including Churchill's bedroom) and the rooms full of phones and morse code machines etc. Fascinating stuff. There is also an incredibly comprehensive museum on Churchill's life there. Next we ducked into St James Park to go squirrel-watching - a complete success - and then met Andy at the market we went to near Waterloo station last night. We had more delicious dinners/drinks/desserts and then trained to Tower Hill where we met Adam for a Jack the Ripper tour. We did the tour with a group called Rippin Yarns and all the tour guides are Beefeaters who live in the Tower of London! Our guide was a very entertaining man named Simon and he took us on a walk through Whitechapel to the sights of some of the Ripper's grisly crimes. He also had some truly disgusting facts and pictures to share with us and some great theories about the identity of the Ripper. It was a really creepy tour to do, especially at night, and Simon was good at scaring the crowd with sudden noises and movements. Afterwards Sean and I went for a drink with Adam and now I am back at the hotel, attempting to pack. Liverpool tomorrow!!

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Another warm and sunny day!

Another big day! They're slowly catching up with me as I'm sick again, but never mind! Health is for squares. This morning after the routine pub breakfast, I sent another package home and bought some socks and underwear from Primark. Then we bought some cheap tickets for tonights show of We Will Rock You (yeahhhhh!) and then headed to the Tower of London! We went on the 60 minute tour by the Yeoman Warder and our warder, Steve, was extremely entertaining. Amazingly, the Yeoman Warders live in the tower. Apparently all up there are 140 people actually living in the tower and I, personally, cannot think of a cooler place to live. He showed us the Bell Tower, where 3 queens of England have been imprisoned (Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey), the Traitor's Gate, and a real working portcullis. We saw the Bloody Tower, where Walter Ralegh was imprisoned and the two little princes were (probably) murdered. We saw the White Tower and the tower ravens that live there for luck. We saw St Peter's ad Vincula chapel and Steve showed us exactly where Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard, Jane Rochford, Jane Grey and Margaret Pole are buried. Exhilarating stuff. After the tour we visited the Jewel House and saw the Crown Jewels, before splitting off to see more. The day was sunny and beautiful and I walked around the top of the wall and visited, among others, the Wakefield Tower, the Salt Tower, the Lanthorn Tower, the Cradle Tower and the Beauchamp Tower, where Lady Jane Grey's supporters have carved her name into the wall, among hundreds of other prisoner's graffiti.

After reuniting and a quick giftshop browse, we jumped on a ferry from Tower Pier to Westminster Pier. Seeing the London skyline from the Thames really is a lovely way to see the city and the sun was setting making for some great photo ops. We saw lots of familiar sights and some new ones, including Daniel Radcliffe's school (wwwoooohhh, fan moment). We then went back to Waterloo so Sean and I could show the girls the market we found last night and we all had delicious dinners from there (I had an amazing wrap with cheesy risotto in it. And hot cider. And macarons.) Then...WE WILL ROCK YOU!! I don't care what anyone says. It's an amazing show and I had as much fun as I had when I saw it four years ago. Queen's music is amazing and the energy the performers put into it is infectious. Freddie Mercury is presented as the hero he is (and there was an awesome photo exhibition in the foyer of images from his life and career, including baby Freddie) and the voices in the cast are unbelievable!! I am so glad I saw it again :)

We have a slightly less hectic, but still busy day planned for tomorrow, so I shall go now, but know I am missing you all! xxxx  

Abbeys and Sherlock and plays! Oh my!

Can I just say, I am an organisational fiend. This morning I got up, showered, dressed, checked my email, went to the pub for breakfast, posted a huge package of stuff back to Aus, went to Euston Station and booked our train tickets to Liverpool and made it to Westminster Abbey, all before noon. I must confess, I was pretty much going to Westminster Abbey just to say I'd been there. It was free with our London Pass and it's a pretty looking building, but I hadn't really fully considered the things I would see. I'm so glad I went. You would think I would be all churched out after trooping across Europe for the last 5 weeks, but Westminster Abbey blew my mind. I was a bit pressed for time, so I tried to just do the most important bits. They give you a free map and audio guide which are invaluable (and it sounds like Jeremy Irons on the audio guide. Is it Jeremy Irons? I'm not sure). I saw the tomb of Elizabeth I and Mary I and Mary, Queen of Scots. I saw the Coronation Chair, the Chapter House and Pyx Chamber, as well as the Cloisters and the Abbey Museum. My favourite sections were easily the Poet's Corner and the Nave. The Poet's Corner is crammed full of memorial stones of all manner of important British writers, including a beautiful monument to Shakespeare. Geoffrey Chaucer's tomb is another highlight. The Nave holds the tomb of Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and the Unknown Soldier, but is beautiful to sit in and reflect. There were candles to light and I lit one for my family. That makes candles lit in Notre Dame, St Paul's and Westminster Abbey, and hopefully the list will grow. I then spent wayyyyy too much at the Abbey Shop.

We raced over to Embankment Station and met a London Walks guide for a 6 pound walking tour on Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle. It was a fascinating couple of hours and our guide was brilliant. It included a lot of history of London as well and we saw places where Conan Doyle had lived and worked and places where Sherlock and Dr Watson had visited in the stories. After this finished, we trained over to the Sherlock Holmes Museum, but I was pressed for time so I've added it to my list of things to do when I return to London. Sean and I took off for Kensington Gardens where I FINALLY found the statue of Peter Pan, four years after I first looked for it. Yay for photo ops. And we saw a squirrel!! A SQUIRREL!! They are the loveliest, cutest things! I don't care that they are pests, they look like cartoons. Then we trained to Waterloo and found some dinner. There was a fish and chip shop that had a little mini-restaurant in the back, with table service and very traditional British fish and chips. It was delicious, but THEN we found a gorgeous little market near the Thames. It was filled with delicious food and really, really friendly people. We wished we had waited to eat until then! So I had a cup a CUP of churros, covered in cinnamon and sugar with some melted chocolate. Pretty amazing stuff. There was also something going on with bikes and skateboards...there were hundreds rushing along South Bank together and it looked really cool.

Then we went to the National Theatre to see Juno and the Paycock. I cannot emphasise how good it is to see some theatre again. Sinead Cusack and Ciaran Hinds played the leads and they were, of course, outstanding. The whole supporting cast was really strong and it was cool to watch the play having walked around the set yesterday. It was extremely funny with a very tragic ending a very Irish feeling play. We came home and I was too tired to type, hence the blog being up late! 

Thursday, 23 February 2012

I want to live here.

This morning I Skyped home and chatted with Mum, Dad, Sim and MARNIE! It was great to see/hear her finally! And Simon is much older and wiser now he is an uncle. Then Sean and I had a huge pub breakfast again, before hightailing it over to the National Theatre to do the backstage tour. I did this four years ago and I loved it, and I thought Sean would love it to. It was just as great this time. We saw the Olivier Theatre and the Lyttelton Theatre (the Cottesloe Theatre had a show running so we couldn't see it this time. But I remember it from last time and its a black box theatre with completely movable seats. It seats between 200-400). We got to actually walk around the stage of the Lyttelton. The set was for Juno and the Paycock and the level of detail was amazing. There are parts of the set that the audience can't see, but these have still been treated as though they are on display to help the actors feel in character. The same kind of things has been done to some costumes. There was lace on the corset for My Fair Lady, hidden by the dress, but it helped the actress feel in character. Then they took us backstage where all the sets are built and the guide showed us a puppet from War Horse! She got in and made the head and ears move. It was brilliant and I would really love to see the show. Apparently it is coming to Aus later this year...

After the tour I had to run to Kings Cross to meet the girls at Platform 9 and 3 Quarters!! YAYY! Sean went to meet Adam and the girls and I took our pics and then went to St Pauls Cathedral. There is a huge tent city outside at the moment, but St Pauls was just as beautiful as I remember. I could spend all day sitting in there. I lit some candles for my family because I miss them! After St Pauls, we went and had Japanese food and then went to Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road. My. Goodness. I could spend alllllll day in there. All week. All month, nay, YEAR even. There is over 7 miles of books, and I only got the first floor done while I was there. And I didn't buy too much either! By the time we got back it was about 8pm and Cara and I went for an epic laundromat search but to no avail. We will probably have to wait until Liverpool to wash our clothes, but never mind!

Big day tomorrow. Lots to get done. Wish us luck! xx

Wednesday, 22 February 2012


I had such a good sleep last night. SUCH a good sleep. I woke up this morning feeling much better and then we went and had an enormous English breakfast with eggs, bacon, beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, hashbrowns, tea and toast all for 5 pounds. This is so awesome because it fills you up for the whole day and I didn't eat again until dinner. Then we all split off to do our own thing. I went to the Foundling Museum. Along the way I saw the Great Ormond Street Hospital, which is famous partially because J.M Barrie bequeathed all the royalties of Peter Pan to the hospital. Peter Pan is just about my favourite thing ever, so this hospital feels special to me. Fittingly, it was right near Coram's Fields and the Foundling Museum. The Foundling Museum was originally a hospital, set up for, you guessed it, foundlings. Foundling was a word for an abandoned child. Back in the dark old days, women were having a lot of babies they were unable to feed, or babies born out of wedlock which would bring shame to them. As a result, a lot of these babies were left to die. A truly wonderful man called Thomas Coram was appalled by this and set up a hospital where women could come to drop their babies if they couldn't care for them. It was incredibly popular (too popular, they had to turn away a lot of babies because of lack of funding and too much interest) and the history of the hospital is well-documented and interesting. There is still an organisation today called 'Coram' that takes care of disadvantaged children, and the park next door is Coram's Fields. No adult is allowed into Coram's Fields unless they have a child with them. The museum also had today (and it runs til April) a wonderful, wonderful exhibition on works of Quentin Blake, who, of course, illustrated Roald Dahl's work. There were four main parts to the exhibition and all were works created for hospitals.

1. 'You're only young twice' - a series of works for elderly people. They feature much older citizens doing circus tricks. There are lots of colours and humour in these paintings.

2. 'Welcome to Planet Zog' - for children, a series of pictures of a friendly alien planet. Aliens and humans interact, and some aliens might have physical or depressive problems, and some doctors might be green with many arms, but everyone looks after one another.

3. 'Mother and babies underwater' - my favourite! These pics are put up in birthing suites and are basically pictures of mothers and babies swimming together. Google them. They are beautiful.

4. 'Ordinary Life in Vincent Square' - these paintings are for patients with eating disorders. Quentin Blake interviewed them to see what they wanted to see, and realised they wanted to see normal life. They are just scenes from everyday life. Some of them have food in them, and some touch lightly on self-image, but it is never forceful or prominent. They are very gentle pictures.

Amazing stuff! I then jumped back on the tube to book tix for a tour at the National Theatre tomorrow. It was raining, but I decided to walk along the river instead of get back on the tube and it was a beautiful walk. I ended up at the Shakespeare's Globe Theatre!! There I met the others and we jumped on a tour. I did this tour 4 years ago and loved it, but this time it was extra special because actors were rehearsing A Midsummer Night's Dream and we were allowed to watch!! That was a wonderful, once-in-a-blue-moon experience. Then we walked through the exhibition and salivated through the gift shop. I think I might come back at the end of our trip and buy up big. After this, the girls went off to have High Tea at the Ritz and Sean and I went to meet Tim and Helen for dinner. We had such a fun night! Tim and Helen took us to a great pizza place for dinner and a simply divine crepe place for dessert. It was awesome to chat to them about how they have found London so far, as living and working over here is something Sean and I are really interested in doing. Great conversation, great company, great food (and too much food, I'm extremely full), made for an awesome night and I am exhausted after blogging this all! Talk to you soon Australia! Miss you!

I'm in London and my last name is Prince. Face it, I'm practically royalty.

Wowww, London. It's so nice to be back here :) After a dreadful night's sleep, I woke up feeling a bit sick and under the weather. But guess what. I'm in LONDON. Which meant I just had to pull on my big-girl knickers and get over it. We headed to the Wellington Arch to meet the Sandemans free tour and had a lovely Irish guide called Thomas walk us around for 3 hours. It was a great tour, and we had sun and it was, at times, too warm for a jacket! We walked from the Wellington Arch, where we saw a bunch of monuments including one for the Australian soldiers, to Buckingham Palace and watched the changing of the guard. I couldn't help but think how frustrating it must be for London drivers and the policemen trying to keep everything in order with all the tourists crowded everywhere trying to get a better look. Then we walked to Clarence House and got a closer look at the guards changing over shifts.

We headed down towards Trafalgar Square where we learnt about Nelson and his rather unfortunate end during battle. As a war hero, he couldn't be buried at sea, so to keep the body fresh for the two-week journey back to England, they put his body in a barrel of rum and sealed it up. Unfortunately, the crew got thirsty and about half the barrel was drunk by the time they docked. Hmmmmm. We saw the PM's house at Downing Street, and just nearby, the enormous bunker, that was built with grass on top and vines all over it, to camouflage it from German planes flying overhead.

Next stop was Big Ben for a great photo op, and we finished at Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament where we were treated to a thrilling re-enactment of Guy Fawkes' brutal torture starring....Sean and I. Sean was Guy Fawkes and I was the executioner. He got hung, drawn and quartered and it was terribly theatrical. After the tour ended we had to hightail it over to Leicester Square to pick up our London passes and then Paddington Station to collect Andy, who had finally flown in from Aus! It was wonderful to see her again! We headed back to the hotel so Andy could drop her stuff off and then we went to the awesome pub we went to for dinner last night to have a late lunch and suss out our London passes and plan our week. Then Sean and I went to visit his mate Adam at the bar he works at and we had tasty cocktails. Then we headed back to Wembley for an early night. We're watching the Brit awards at the moment. Mmmm, cultural. Tomorrow, among other things, the Globe theatre!

Monday, 20 February 2012

London Calling

Apparently Sean had too much wine last night, because he thought he'd set our alarm for 8.15, but it went off at 9.15. I appreciated the extra sleep, but it meant we missed breakfast, so we went and got pain au chocolat and baguettes instead! Yay! Then we walked up to Sacre Coeur and it was sunny and beautiful and full of pushy dudes trying to show us a 'magic trick' with a piece of string so their mates could pickpocket us. Again, I reiterate: Europe, we are too smart for you (touch wood). Stop trying to scam us or I will throw a fit. Afterwards we headed back to the Moulin Rouge, where our tour had started last time, and walked up the hill towards Van Gogh's house, passing the Amelie cafe and buying earrings from a souvenir shop. Then we headed a different way down the road, a way we hadn't been, and ended up finding the Church of Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre. It was open, so I went in and sat down for about 20 minutes because I needed soul food. It was peaceful and lovely. Then we got pistachio and nutella macarons and headed back to the hotel to grab our stuff. We got to Gare du Nord with nearly two hours to spare and prepared ourselves for a long wait, but it turned out to be a blessing because checking-in and going through customs took FOREVER. We got a huge grilling from the UK customs guy and he asked us about 40 million questions. But he eventually let us through and we hopped on the Eurostar. I slept for most of the trip and then we were in LONDON!! It took a while to get through the Metro to Wembley Central, but it felt so long because my bag is so heavy. I will send lots home this week! Once we got to the hotel, we dumped our stuff and then found an awesome pub nearby with really cheap and awesome meals. Then we headed back, I washed my hair (finally) and we met up with the girls! Yay!! Minus Andy, because it turns out her plane doesn't arrive until tomorrow. Boo. But nevermind, we will see her then!

Hello Paris, my old friend :)

This morning was extremely lazy. Too lazy. We lazed about after we had checked out and then found we were running late for the train to Paris. We had to get this train. We have connecting flights and Eurostar, not to mention booked accommodation that we couldn't cancel. Cut to Cara, Sean and I running full pelt down Passeig de Gracia dragging all our luggage, but we MADE IT! In a sweaty, sweaty heap, we piled onto our train after running to the metro and catching it to Sants Estactio. We then spent the next hour and a half chatting to a really friendly couple from Texas while we trained to Figeures-Vilafant. Then we hopped on our connecting train to Paris Lyon which took 6 hours. It was a very long six hours, filled with snoozing, iPods, e-readers and a killer game of Jetpack on Cara's iPhone.

We arrived in Paris about 8pm (Bonsoir, Paris! Je t'aime!) and caught the metro to Gare du Nord where we bid adieu to Cara, who was going to meet Alfie at the airport hotel, so they can get their flight tomorrow. Then Sean and I headed to our hotel, very close to Gare du Nord and just steps from Montmartre! We checked in and then went and found kebabs. We chatted to some travellers from Hannover, who were lovely and are now sitting in our room. There is no wi-fi, so by the time I post this, I may be in London! Our room is gorgeous. It is tiny, with a double bed, a sink, a tiny little desk and a wardrobe. There is flowered wallpaper on the wall and hideous carpet, and it is just so bohemian and quintessentially French. I could live in something like this, and be a starving artist, or a tortured writer or something. We even got a bottle of cheap, red wine and poured it into disposable cups and Sean's camping utensils. And it tasted so much better than any Australian red wine I've had. Vive la France!

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Can't. Move.

SO FULL. So full of paella and tomatoes and fetta. Such a good dinner with the lovely Eleanor from DC! We went to Bosque Palermo on Carrer de Valencia which I strongly recommend if you are ever in Barcelona. Lovely wine, delicious food, great company and sparkling conversation - the perfect end to our Catalonian adventure. We train back to Paris tomorrow!!


Mmmm, sunny Barcelona.

I love you Barcelona!! After a biiiiiig sleep-in, a looooong shower, and a blog, Seanus cooked some beautiful breakfast and we met Cara at Park Guell. Park Guell is on a hill in Barcelona (a very steep hill. There are outdoor escalators to access it.) and it has wonderful architecture by Gaudi all throughout it. It was a sunny, warm, clear day and there were stunning views of Barcelona from the very top of the peak. You walk up all these twisty paths with some brilliant buskers along the way. When we went down the slope, we came to a paved area with a long, curved, mosaic park bench with the waves of a sea serpent. There was a very festive protest against privatisation going on in the middle of this bit. My blog really can't describe how most of this park looked, because it was just so unlike anything I'd seen before. Make sure you check out the pics on facebook when they go up in a day or two.

We got ice-cream and took the train back to the hostel. Then we chilled out for a couple of hours while we waited for Cara, who had gone to see Casa Batllo. Sean and I headed out to try and find a supposed carneval parade, but we ended up just finding a kid's one. But we had a wonderful walk down La Rambla, seeing all the artists, and spruikers and pet stores and food places. We stopped for a pina colada at the Travel Bar on the way back and now we are back at the hostel. We are about to head out for paella with an American girl we met in Berlin, but it will be interesting to see if we can find her at the paella place! Will blog soon



Hi everybody! I didn't blog last night because I was too tired, but I will attempt to fill in all the deets as best I remember them. Yesterday morning after cooking up an awesome hot breakfast again, we headed down to the Travel Bar to get on a free walking tour. This wasn't with Sandemans, but it was just as good (and also got tips at the end). Our guide was a lovely Irish guy called Duncan and the tour walked us through the Gothic Quarter, which is quite a small part of Barcelona, but the oldest part and the most beautiful in my opinion. It is completely car-free, because all the little winding streets are too small to have cars in them and they wanted to preserve the streets as they were. We saw a lot of beautiful old churches, many in the Gothic-style architecture, and many Catalonian flags. I had no idea of the division between Barcelona and the rest of Spain. It is extreme to the point where a lot of people will claim they aren't Spanish, they are Catalonian. They won't speak Spanish and get ticked off when tourists try to speak it. After Duncan explained the history of Spain and Catalonia, it became clearer why the animosity exists. Spain has only been a democracy for about 40 years, and was feudal in the early 20th century. I can't remember all the details, but the Spanish Civil War is still a sensitive topic for many Spanish and Catalonian citizens and it is best to not mention it. That is what the government has decided to do anyway. We visited Placa de Sant Felip Neri, which had been bombed and used as an execution site during the Civil War, but is a very romantic place nonetheless. (And it has the balcony from 'Perfume' in it!). It was full of kids running around, all dressed for carnival. It was so funny to see them all. Stacks of little boys running around dressed as their mums. In Australia, they'd be beaten to a pulp. In Barcelona, everyone was giving them bits of jewellery to add to their costumes. Its a crazy, wonderful, extremely liberal city. We also saw plenty of adults dressed up, as smurfs and other interesting things. Apparently its legal in Barcelona to be completely naked on the street. So in summer you see people cycling up Las Ramblas in their birthday suits.

We we told the story of Santa Eulalia, the patron saint of Barcelona, and a 13-year-old Roman Christian martyr. We stood on the street where she was tortured and saw the church that holds her remains. We walked through the palatial section of the old city, within the walls, and also ducked outside the walls for a bit. Some of the palatial buildings were built using destroyed headstones from the Jewish cemetery and you can still see the inscriptions. It is terribly eerie. They have excavated sections below the city and you can see the original Roman foundations, including some really grand Roman columns. Parts of the walls are still standing as well. We walked through the Jewish section, which was subject to a terrible massacre that sent all the Jews out of Barcelona (those that survived the massacre that is). The section contains the oldest synagogue in Europe (over 1000 years old, and not a synagogue any longer). We saw some wonderful street art scattered all over the shop and learnt about the current political climate - pretty shaky. Due to the euro crashing and the unemployment rate soaring, there are a lot of people becoming homeless and protesting. But it still remains such a vibrant and fun city. We saw the King's square, where Ferdinand and Isabella would have received Columbus as he came back to tell them he'd discovered the New World. And we saw carvings of two important figures in Barcelona's history - 'Hairy Willy' (Wilfred the Hairy) and St George. We also learnt of the rivalry between Picasso and Miro and Picasso's later boycott of Spain. We saw the art school where Picasso studied. Apparently the surrounding streets were full of brothels, and this was the inspiration for Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, one of his very famous paintings.

We stood in the very centre of Barcelona (they have a little circle with a marking inside it to mark the extreme centre) and we heard about castells. This is a custom exclusive to Catalonia, which involves making enormous human towers. Sometimes they collapse and people get hurt or occasionally die, but it is something so intrinsically Catalonian, that everyone still does it. Catalonia has abolished bullfighting, a further measure to separate themselves from the rest of Spain. After the tour, we all went back to the Travel Bar for discounted drinks and Cara, Sean and I decided to have a meal there as well. We chatted to other people from the tour for a few hours after, including two girls from Taiwan staying at our hostel, then headed back to the hostel for tapas night! For 6 euro, you partake in tapas and sangria, made fresh at the hostel. We helped with the making, and felt very Spanish. Everyone in the hostel sat around and ate and chatted and we met so many cool people. Two sisters from Wisconsin and a teacher from Perth who was living in France came to an Irish Pub with Sean and I and by the time we fell into bed at about 2.30, I was exhausted!


Thursday, 16 February 2012

Just a quick note to say...

Having a bed in a comfy hostel is just so freaking amazing. I can't wait to get into bed tonight. So tired. But had a wonderful day! SUN! I was in a t-shirt!! With no thermal underneath!! We had great paella for lunch and then cooked eggs, bacon, toast and mushrooms for dinner. I also bought new jeans. The rest of the time, we sat on the couch and chilled. So nice to have a chill day. Tomorrow, walking tour in Barcelona!

Ciao xx

Barcelona! (and Milan and train of no space)

'Scuse the lack of blog yesterday, all! I was on an overnight train, with no wi-fi. It was subsequently the longest train ride in the history of the universe. And incredibly, INCREDIBLY squashed. It makes sense, I understand that its a train, they have to be economic with space, yada yada, but seriously. I paid 75 euro for that bed and I could pretty much not move. Also extremely tired today as sleep was minimal. Before any of this though, we slept in and left La Spezia at a pretty cruisey pace. We were on a train to Milan for a few hours and then had to kill a few hours in Milan Central. It was excruciatingly boring, to put it mildly, but we took turns minding the stuff and going for walks which broke it up a bit. We were sharing with a gorgeous older Italian woman from Rome who told us all about her lovely son and his family who she was visiting in Madrid. Later, another Italian woman joined us but she had no English, so the older one translated a bit, which was lovely. The train was squished, and when we arrived in Barcelona this morning, we were all incredibly sore, smelly and tired.

We made our way slowly from the station to the hostel, walking lots and taking the metro so it took a while to reach our destination. I nearly cried with relief when we got here. And then I had a shower! A SHOWER!! It was the best thing ever. And then we put our clothes in to be washed. All our clothes. They will now be all lovely and clean. I need to go get jeans, lunch, groceries, money and paella for dinner, so I will maybe blog a bit later on. Toodles all!


Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Heroes of the Cinque Terre!!

This morning we slept in. And it was awesome. AWESOME! Then we took our little breakfast ticket down to a cafe where we get a free Italian breakfast - it consists of a espresso, a cappucino, or a tea, and a brioche or a focaccia, and my goodness, it was yum. Very basic, but delicious all the same, and free! Then we went to the train station to see Alfie off to Milan and then Cara and Sean and I took a train to Riomaggiore, the first village in the Cinque Terre (for those who don't know, there are five villages, connected by a coastal path. It's been there for centuries, and people who lived and worked along the coastline have cut it into place.) It takes approx. 6 hours to walk the whole path across the five villages and we weren't sure if we'd have the stamina to do the whole lot so we thought we'd play it by year.

The first walk, between Riomaggiore and Manarola, is called the Via dell'Amore ('Love Walk'). Today, it was free, because it was Valentine's Day! Oh yeah, that's right! Valentine's Day! It certainly was a lovely way to spend Valentine's Day. INCREDIBLE views. Brilliant sunshine (it really was too hot for jackets so I carried mine most of the way). Stunning cliffs with love seats cut into them, and plaques and padlocks and graffiti of lover's names all along the walk. Beautiful, beautiful stuff. We took huge amounts of pictures. And I may have written some graffiti of my own...

We reached the town of Manarola, an incredibly picturesque little slice of heaven. We walked through it to reach the next part of the coastal walk and were about a third of the way through when we reached a gate that locked the way - part of the walk was dangerous and we couldn't go any further. That problem is easily solved - there are train services through the five villages, so we just walked back to Manarola and hopped on a train that took us straight to the next town, Corniglia. This is the only town out of the five that doesn't have the train station in the middle of the town, so you have to walk up a steep hill, or 382 steep steps. We took the hill, though it took a while and was very difficult. Corniglia was very beautiful also. We noticed throughout the day that there weren't many people around. This could have been due to it being the off-season, or, as we found out later, due to the damage to the coastal walk that occurred in October last year.

We decided to walk the one and a half hour trail from Corniglia to Vernazza. The trail from Vernazza to Monterosso, the final town, is about two hours, so we made no promises and decided to just see how we felt. The path between Corniglia and Vernazza turned out to be one of the most crazy difficult experiences of my life (a crazy difficult experience that included insane views and stunning coastal scenery of wild orchards and vineyards and the extremely weird combination of snow and sea and sunshine). As we got further and further along the path, we encountered bigger and bigger sections that had been collapsed, or destroyed by mini landslides. Clearly, the storms in October had made it extremely perilous. We kept climbing really carefully over piles of rocks that just ended in a cliff drop. I had to jump at one point and tore a hole in my jeans when I snagged them on some wire. Part of the fence had collapsed and there was a huuuuuge rip. My only jeans. Right across the upper thigh region. Yep. Time for new jeans. If any of us had slid down, we wouldn't have been able to climb up and we would have had to call some kind of emergency service. Picture the 1000 steps, on a cliff, three times as long, with no one else around. It was extremely scary at points, and I don't know why there wasn't a sign somewhere blocking the path off. If any elderly people had decided to take the walk, they wouldn't have been able to leap over things or tiptoe over rockslides, so there really should have been a warning. That being said, the sense of victory I felt when we reached Vernazza was tanglible. We WIN AT CINQUE TERRE!! And though the path had been tough, my goodness it was a good-looking piece of nature.

As we walked through Vernazza, the damage was obvious. The roads were extremely muddy and it was full of construction people cleaning and draining ground floor buildings. We took a train to Monterosso, determined to see the final village, but by the time we got there, our energy had completely expired and we stumbled into a coffee shop at the station for a hot chocolate and an espresso, and then stumbled back to the platform to train back to La Spezia. So we didn't see much of Monterosso at all, but I felt we saw plenty of beauty of the Cinque Terre regardless. The weather remained beautiful for our entire adventure and we felt like total winners because we had survived the death trap of the Corniglia-Vernazza trail. Once we arrived back in La Spezia we collapsed for a bit, then dragged ourselves back to the restaurant from last night. We had the same waiter and the same wonderful experience, so I would definitely recommend Pizzeria Il Pomodoro for anyone visiting La Spezia! (Note: bring a phrasebook, you will need it). We are all exhausted, so we will not do much else tonight. Sean has gone for a short walk with a cigar, and I'm going to have a much-needed shower. Tomorrow: Milan! Until 7.40pm, then we get onto a night train to Barcelona. Yay!


Monday, 13 February 2012

La Spezia!

Hi kids! I'm writing from lovely La Spezia, which we reached today at about 4pm. After a pretty leisurely morning (getting up, eating free and delivered breakfast, checking out and hanging round the train station), we got on a direct train to La Spezia. So far, I am not hugely enamoured with Italian trains. They are definitely fast, and very new, but they are not as comfortable as some of the less fancy trains we used in other countries. Regardless, we reached La Spezia and our hotel is just 80m from the main train station. We met the hotel manager just outside the doors and she showed us to our room which is on the very top floor. This means a lot of stairs, but a beautiful view. It was also really sunny, and I think it might only be 3 or 4 degrees, but it actually feels warm compared to the temperatures we've been enduring.

Once we'd settled in, we went searching for a restaurant to eat a nice dinner in as it's Cara's birthday! While we were waiting for all the places to actually open for dinner, we went for a walk around the town. The language barrier is far more apparent here, as La Spezia isn't a huge tourist city like Venice or Rome. When we sat down for dinner, we discovered there was no English menu and our waiter had  pretty much no English. This was good! We've been far too spoiled and I wanted to experience what it was really like to struggle with a tough language barrier. Our waiter was utterly delightful, and so friendly. We ended up looking at the menu, identifying words that looked familiar and then just picking stuff almost at random. It was sort of pot luck, but my goodness the food was good. We had excellent pizzas and desserts and the restaurant was so affordable, much cheaper than anywhere in Rome or Venice. We spent quite a while just sitting and chatting there and decided it was definitely one of our top dining experiences thus far. Afterwards, we headed back to our room and have just been chilling out. There hasn't been much opportunity to go out in Italy because we have only been in places for two nights, which means lots of early mornings. Hopefully, once we get to the UK, we will have longer times in less places, which means more time to explore!


Sunday, 12 February 2012

Us and the Pope. And lots of snow.

This morning the hostel delivered breakfast to our room. That was pretty cool, considering it was free! Once we'd organised ourselves and caught up on the days events (RIP Whitney! I love you!) and chatted on Facebook (Hi Josie! I love you!), we headed to Termini and took the underground to the Vatican City! Alfie and I were in Rome 4 years ago and remember lining up for forever to get into the Sistine Chapel. So we were really pleased to discover we could walk straight into St Peter's Square. There were quite a few thousand people in there milling around with us and we were content to just walk around and snap some pics rather than lining up for ages to get into St Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. So we did just that, chilling out and wandering about when suddenly....a voice...a voice amplified across the whole city! Was it God?? No...but it was in fact, His Holiness the Pope! Of course! It was Sunday! There was massive applause and I looked around frantically until I saw him, wayyyyyy up in a little window, addressing the whole square. It was wonderful! And totally unexpected!! (For us, probably not for everyone else there). He delivered a sermon in Italian (I think) and there was a lot of chanting in Latin (I think), and then he went through a bajillion different languages, including English, Spanish, German and Russian, to welcome everyone and thank them for coming. And he blessed us all. It was such a great way to spend our morning in Rome. On a high from that, we made our way back through the metro to the Colosseum.

We were starving by now, so we found a little restaurant close by to eat lunch. We are generally quite wary of these places because they're extremely pricey, but the guy told us that we could get a ten euro menu of a pizza, bruschetta and a soft drink. That sounded fair enough, so we ended up in there. We were total besties with the waiter by the end of it, and the food was not too bad. The bruschetta was divine, second only to my dad's (and Riley's). They forgot Cara's salad so he gave her a free dessert and they were just a really friendly place. We then left to actually visit the Colosseum, only to discover it was closed because of snow!! (We found out later this is extremely rare. It has snowed four times in Rome in the last sixty years, and when it does snow, they can't put salt down on the ancient monuments because it damages them. So they have to close places to prevent tourists slipping etc). I also saw Will Poulter there. He's the kid from Son of Rambow which is one of my favourite films ever. Yep. It excited me. So sue me!

Quite a bit of the Forum was closed as well, but we were still able to see heaps, and we did a long walk around it. We found a tiny little market hidden behind one of the topmost walls and I bought two kiwi fruits. I am craving serious fruit and veg. Scurvylicious. Then we made our way leisurely back to Colosseum. I should point out here that the whole day was filled with brilliant sunshine. And it was warm! Compared with what we have been living with for the last couple of weeks, we were really warm, despite the melting snow on the ground. We trained back to Piazza de Spagna to have another stab at finding that free walking tour and success! We got it! Our tour guide was a Roman, a lovely guy called Andrea (he was quick to inform us it was a man's name in Italy) with a stunning accent and great English.

We learned that the 'Spanish Steps' are actually the Scalinata della Trinata dei Monti - the Stairway to the Holy Trinity Church, as at the top of the steps, is a church. We saw the Fontana della Barcaccia, the fountain by Bernini's father, and many of the obelisks around Rome. We saw the Valentino headquarters, and the very high statue of the Virgin Mary with the wreath of flowers placed on her arm by our mate, the Pope. We saw some blocks owned by Bernini and the church where two of his statues reside - the Pope at the time commissioned them for the top of a bridge, but was so impressed with them, that he paid Bernini, but made him keep them, as they were 'too beautiful' to be on top of a bridge. After Bernini died, they were donated to the church. And they are extremely beautiful. A lady on the tour took us in a separate entrance to see them better. When we came out of the church, the tour group had gone. The lady was sure she knew where they had headed - she was from Rome and had been on the tour before. By this point, we thought she was dodgy as all get out, but we decided to follow her, hoping against hope she wasn't going to lead us down any dark alleys with the Mafia waiting to rob us, but she found the tour. Yayyy! We were extremely on our guard after that. We saw an ancient Roman column outside a shopping centre that has been there since it's construction. We saw St Ignatius Church with the mind-blowing Baroque ceiling. It's just amazing. I can't even express how impressed I was with that ceiling.

We went to the Pantheon, but it was closed because of the snow, but we still found out plenty about its history and construction. We saw the last remaining wall of Hadrian's temple and we finished the tour at the Trevi fountain. It was an extremely enjoyable tour, and by the end of today we were exhausted! So we headed back to the hostel, grabbing kebabs on the way. We leave for La Spezia in the morning. Phew!


Saturday, 11 February 2012


Buongiorno! We are now in Rome, a dirty, touristy, fun city. We left Venice this morning and after some minor ticket hiccups, arrived in Rome at about 4pm. Our hostel is uber close to the central station, which left us plenty of time to settle in before we set off in search of a free tour. We found no such tour. Apparently they run every day, but they weren't at the meeting spot at the start time, so we just shrugged our shoulders and went for a walk. We went for a long roundabout trek (without a map) in search of the Trevi Fountain and we actually found it!! After ages. But it was lovely to go for such a long walk. It began snowing, but it was not very cold; in fact, compared to Germany/Czech Republic, it was postively balmy. We were getting very hot in all our gear. So we stopped for gelati in the snow and eventually trundled back to the hostel. The metro here is quite small compared to other cities and we were squished on with about a million other people, but we only ever had to travel one or two stops. Sean is itching to go out, and Cara, Alfie and I just want to stay in the warm, so there will probably be some compromises tomorrow. I'm not sure if I want to make tomorrow a full day or a rest day. Maybe a mix. We'll see!

Friday, 10 February 2012


This morning we had a sleep-in! YEAH SLEEP-IN! Then we got up and organised pretty leisurely. We ended up spending the day just walking around and 'getting lost' in Venice. It's an easy (and free!) way to see the city, and there are signs everywhere pointing you back to certain points so you will never find yourself stranded. We walked back to San Marco and along the Grand Canal to the Bridge of Sighs. Then we headed back through towards the Rialto Bridge and went a little further beyond that. Venice is full of restaurants and souvenir shops (and I bought a lot of souvenirs and little pressies for people today. A lot.) and the little winding streets and canals make it beautifully picturesque. I also took a stack of photos, so look out for them on facebook.

I was coming out of a souvenir shop when a guy came up to me and flashed a badge at me, telling me he was the 'tax police'. Straight away, you could tell something was up. First of all, he came out of nowhere, and when I looked behind me his mate was there as well. Alfie and Sean were standing near me and joined me and Cara was a bit further off and she looked over at us. This dude didn't have any kind of uniform and when I asked to see his badge again he took it out reluctantly and kind of flashed it at me before shoving it in his pocket. Yeah, tax police. My foot. He started asking me stupid irrelevant questions about the bag I had bought. Then he asked me my name and I told him it was Emily Principe. (There you go, Dad! At least one Italian, even he is a dodgy piece of scum, thinks our last name is Principe!) The whole time Sean and I stared at him and Alfie and Cara stared at his mate, who was still floating around behind me. Then he kind of gave up on us and waved us away. Take that, inept con man. Next time, don't pick a group of four people to try and rob. The 'tax police scam' apparently happens a bit in Venice and just involves one guy asking you dumb questions, while his accomplice goes through your bag. Ugh. I felt cross for ages afterwards. I was happy they hadn't got anything, but I was still mad that they had the audacity to try. I guess we should be grateful we haven't encountered any scams before this. It's really unpleasant.

Afterwards, we went back to hotel to dump the stuff we had bought, and then set out for dinner. It was a long walk to our intended restaurant, but it was picturesque and took us far away from the tourist district. We didn't like the look of it when we got there, but we went to another place near it and had good meals for much, much less than we had paid last night. I got pistachio and licorice gelati on the way back to the hotel, and I don't think I'm up for going out again tonight. Too tired! It is nice, however, to be slightly less cold than Germany and Prague.


Thursday, 9 February 2012


Well, well, well, what a day, what a day. It started with breakfast at the hostel, then we headed to the train station to catch a train. We had a direct route, straight to Venice, which was very cool, and we found another private Harry Potter cabin and settled ourselves in. About halfway through our trip (3 hours or so into a 6.5 hour trip), the train stopped while we were eating goulash and curry in the dining car. An announcement came over about 20 minutes later in Italian, German and English, and we were informed: 'Ladies and gentlemen, this train ride will end here because the locomotive is, uh, not working.' We were told to head to Platform 6 and catch a train to Verona. From there, we'd have to get another train to Venice. So we did just that. After some confusion as to whether we had actually found the correct train, we piled on and went, much slower, to Verona. The problem was that the new train was a regional train and stopped far more regularly. But we couldn't do anything about that, so we sat back and watched the scenery. The mountains in Italy are, to put it mildly, completely stunning. Snow-covered or not, they are some of the most beautiful and majestic pieces of rock I have ever seen, and the villages built into the sides of them are just gorgeous.

At Verona, we raced across the station in a dramatic dash for the Venice train, which we got onto with plenty of time, so a bit of an anti-climax, really. We then proceeded to spend the next half hour listening to an incredibly heated and scary argument between the ticket inspector and an Italian woman who looked like Lillian from Shameless. She was yelling at the top of her lungs, and I don't know a lot of Italian, but there were a few choice words she was using that were not very nice. Every now and then she'd walk away, only to think of some more abuse and turn back around. This took place, literally, behind Alfie's left shoulder, but Scary Italian Lady obviously didn't care who heard. Crazy times. Eventually, we reached Venice. YAYYY VENICE!! We caught a waterbus to San Marco, which was a lovely, scenic, night time ride along the Grand Canal, and then we walked through some gorgeous tiny streets until we found our hotel. Our room is pretty lovely for a dorm. We have our own bathroom and a TV, free soap/shampoo and lots of washstands/cupboards and a BIDET. That's right. We have a bidet. I don't think I've ever seen one before now. But I'm scared of it, it looks freaky.

The only problem is that we have to pay for wifi. That's a little annoying, but we'll deal. We went food-hunting as soon as we got checked in and found a restaurant that did yummy pizzas, but not as good pasta and chicken. I had limoncello, because Dad introduced me to it ages ago and I was finally in Italy again. In honour of you, Dad! Then we walked back to the hotel, stopping to look at all the touristy shops. Prague and Venice definitely have much better-looking souvenirs than a lot of the other cities we have been in. Sure, a lot of it is a bit kitsch and tacky, but they are still a lot prettier than anything else. I found some really cute Venetian mask earrings for only 6 euro.

I have now washed my hair for the first time in three days and it feels amazing. We bought some internet (extremely grudgingly, but it works, yay) and are investigating what to do tomorrow!


Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Neuschwanstein Castle

Righto! So, we were up early this morning to be at the station by 9am (that is, Alfie, Cara and myself. Sean didn't come with us, but apparently went to the Deutsches Museum and had a good time). We were taking the tour with Radius, because Sandemans weren't running their tour today due to a staff shortage. The tour group consisted of us three, a guy from Riga in Latvia, and our tour guide. His name was Mike and he was from Minnesota. Being a small group of 5 was wonderful, because we could ask as many questions as we liked and the guide left it up to us to decide where we wanted to go and what time we wanted to leave etc.

The train ride from Munich to Fussen took two hours, then we jumped on a bus for ten minutes to Hohenschwangau, the village at the bottom of the mountain, bordered by the Alpsee lake. It was amazingly picturesque. The snow was everywhere, though it wasn't actually snowing and we had brilliant sunshine for most of the day. It was also about 4 degrees warmer than Munich so we had a balmy minus three degrees in which to enjoy the day, which believe me, we are growing accustomed to. See my facebook for some killer photos.

Once we got to the village of Hohenschwangau, we went for a walk to see the Hohenschwangau Castle (separate to Neuschwanstein, but extremely close). This castle is smaller, but you are still able to visit it. It is also the older of the two castles and it looked very pretty against a blue sky and white mountains. The Alpsee was enormous, and frozen over. You can see Austria across it (we were about 4km from the border). There were some tourists jumping on the ice and skidding over it, but Mike said that was a sure way to get yourself injured, as the lake doesn't often freeze too deep. After this, we headed up to Neuschwanstein. It is about a 30/40 minute walk uphill, and we were pretty amazingly tired at the end of it. You can pay 6 euro to ride a horse and carriage up, but it works out quicker if you just walk. The actual tour of the castle interior only goes for 35 minutes as it only goes through the completed rooms. Only a third of the rooms were ever completed, as Ludwig the 2nd, who built it, died suddenly and mysteriously, and all construction on the castle ceased. Interestingly, the castle was built as an homage to the operas of Wagner, as Ludwig the 2nd was a huge fan. This means that paintings depicting scenes from Wagner's operas adorn every room. It is truly stunning stuff. Unfortunately, we weren't permitted to take any photos inside the castle. Our guide was this tiny little man (I think it was a man), who spoke very quietly, with a thick German accent, and had the most delicate looking hands I've ever seen. It was like being guided around by a shy pixie, and was utterly adorable. My favourite room was the King's bedchamber. It boasted a reading chair, ornate wooden carvings everywhere, a Wagner theme of 'Tristan and Isolde', and a very modern (for the time) toilet and washstand with running water. The castle also boasts one of the first telephones. There was also a chapel and a secret door in the King's bedchamber. It was very cool.

Once we finished the tour, I bought a photo book because I want some decent images of the castle interior. We walked back down the mountain to the village and I bought some tiny silver earrings shaped like pretzels. Then we hopped back on the bus, back on the train, and arrived back in Munich in time to see Sean off for his beer tour. The whole trip took about 9 hours, cost 44 euro (not including food/souvenirs) and I highly recommend it! We are leaving for Venice tomorrow so I will be packing up tonight and hopefully getting to bed at a decent hour as I'm pretty exhausted. I'm so glad we ended up coming to Munich. It wasn't originally on our itinerary, but I have definitely enjoyed myself here.


Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Sub-Sub-SUB Zero Munich

Wowee, it's cold here. This morning, after not having had the best sleep because we enjoyed the bar too much last night, we attempted to get ready for the 10.00am walking tour (again with Sandemans, because we love them). Cara and Alfie made it, Sean and I didn't, but it just meant we had a very leisurely morning before heading out on the tour at 1pm instead. It was possibly one of the more fascinating tours, but again, like Berlin and Prague, the cold is such a distraction, it's hard to recall the finer details of what we learnt. But I shall do my best. Our guide's name was Marcin and he was from Hampshire in England. He has had a pretty fascinating bunch of experiences, and is a fully qualified guide at the Dachau Memorial Camp. See his website for a really interesting project he is working on.

We started the tour in Marianplatz, with the New Town Hall and the Old Town Hall, both of which were damaged by the bombings in WW2 and rebuilt afterwards. There are a handful of buildings that survived the bombings - these are all in the centre of the city and have spires. This is how the Allied pilots could tell where to aim the bombs - around the spires. Pretty much everything else in Munich was bombed to dust. Before the bombs fell, the Nazis sent photographers round the city to document as much evidence of where things had been, all the little things like, where trees were, the detail on facades and doorways etc. All the things that wouldn't necessarily show up on building plans. This meant that after the war, the city could rebuild more or less the exact same way it had been before.

In Marienplatz we also learnt about the useless Duke Wilhelm, who bankrupted Bavaria by supplying the Bavarian Army with free beer, and his useless son, who succeeded him and promptly abandoned Munich when it was invaded, only to return when the Munich citizens had successfully saved the city. He claimed he had fled (with the entire Bavarian army) to climb a mountain in Salzburg and pray for the salvation of Munich to the Virgin Mary. He had obviously been successful, and was deaf to the protests of Munich citizens that they, in fact, had saved the city.

We then saw St Peter's Church, the oldest church in Munich. There is a cannonball embedded in the window sill from when the Austrian's fired it there. There is also a little bell that was rung specifically to remind the prostitutes and witches to come to Mass. Ah, Munich. A city full of very weird things. We went to an open-air market, which is apparently quite beautiful in summer because there is a large beer garden, but it was packed away for winter. After this, we went to the place where the Night of Broken Glass began. The story is far too complicated for me to go into here, but if you don't know the story behind it, particularly the story of Herschel Grynszpan, whose actions (which were, I believe, justified) were used as an excuse to begin the Night of Broken Glass, it is a very interesting one. Tragic and unfair, and often thought of as the beginning of the Holocaust, but an important chapter of Munich's history. 

We saw a statue of Juliet (from 'Romeo and Juliet'), as apparently Verona is a sister city of Munich. This was awesome for us, because Verona has been on our itinerary, but it looks like we won't be able to make it there after all. So it was nice to see a piece of it in Germany. We then walked to Hofbrauhaus, Munich's most famous brewery, and also the birthplace of the Nazi party. It was here that the Nazi's changed their name to the National Socialists and elected Hitler their leader (after he had proven his popularity and overthrown the previous leader). There is a hall up on the top level of the Hofbrauhaus that looks like the inside of a beer barrel. It has a stage at the back where Hitler delivered many speeches and it was creepy to stand there because it was full of people dancing and laughing. I think it's wonderful that it is used for fun gatherings, which have nothing to do with the sinister stuff that occurred there, but it's still confronting to see a place where such hate-filled vitriol was spewed.

We then walked partway along the route of the Beer Hall Putsch, which is the name for an attempted revolt by Hitler before the Nazi party had come to power. Basically, the Nazi's decided to seize power from Germany's current dictator, but were trapped by a police blockade and engaged in a gun battle on Odeonsplatz. Hitler's bodyguard fell on top of him and took 11 bullets. The bodyguard survived and became a prominent Nazi later on, but imagine how different the world would have been if one of those 11 bullets had hit their intended target and killed Hitler. After this occurred, the Nazis made a memorial for the 'Nazi martyrs' that had been shot (13 in total, though the sign said 20), and every citizen was forced to give the Nazi salute when they passed the memorial. The beginnings of German resistance formed in Munich when the citizens began avoiding the memorial. They would walk through the side streets instead, and there is a copper-coloured trail through the cobblestones to mark their efforts. This later became difficult. The Nazis cottoned on to what was happening and stationed an undercover guard in the side streets to take names and details of people passing through, who should have walked on the Odeonsplatz. If your name ended up on the list twice, you were sent to the concentration camp in Dachau to be 're-educated' politically. So taking the side streets really was a risk of one's life and the citizens continued to do it, which was extremely brave.

Odeonsplatz has a beautiful hall (concert hall? I can't remember) that has sculptures to honour Bavarian generals. There are two statues of lions. One is facing the palace with it's mouth open. This is to signify that the citizens were entitled to free speech, even if it criticised the royal family. The other lion is looking towards the church with it's mouth closed. This is to signify that free speech didn't extend to the church. You weren't allowed to criticise that! We saw the Theatine Church and one of the many courtyards of the palace, which has a wall of portraits of every Bavarian Duke/King in chronological order. Our guide took us down the wall, explaining the complete craziness of every ruler. They are an interesting and insane bunch! After that, we finished the tour and hurried back to Marienplatz with a German girl who was staying at our hostel. We found a cafe, because I simply had to defrost my feet. The cafe was run by this older German woman and there was an older German woman who was a customer in the shop. It was the littlest, sweetest cafe and there was a big, fluffy, white dog sitting in the middle of the floor. We played with the dog and the women found out we were Australian and tried out their English and were so friendly and welcoming. The lady convinced me to have apple strudel and it was even better than the one I had in Berlin. 

After we had defrosted, we plunged back into the snow and went back to the hostel. We defrosted once more and then decided to head out again (hey, our time in Munich is limited!). So Sean and I went to a beer hall for dinner where I, being not a huge beer fan, consented to having a half litre of Augustiner mixed with lemonade. It was...alright. I still didn't love it. But we had AMAZING Bavarian food for dinner there. Potato dumplings, meatballs, meat ravioli, beef broth, sauerkraut and potato salad and gravy. So delicious. The beer hall looked just like you expected it to, with barrels and long tables and beer wenches and it was heaps of fun! Then we walked home and have alternated between the bar, our room and the laundry.


Monday, 6 February 2012


This morning we got up really early. Like, really early. Like 7.30. Okay, so not that early, but early enough. We walked to the train station and jumped on a 9.07 train for Munich. I had Burger King for breakfast. That's right. Challenge me, I dare you! It was yum. The 6-7 hour train trip went quite quickly for me because we had on cabin of six seats to ourselves. It was extremely Harry Potter-esque, and therefore tres exciting. And I could put the armrest up and lie down. So I did, and I slept for quite a bit. The countryside was again, stunningly beautiful, with and without snow. Apart from some truly heinous train sandwiches (that we took two bites of and had to throw away), it was a very pleasant ride. When we got to Munich, our hostel was about two minutes walk from the Hauptbahnhof, so it was easy as pie to get to. We are in a private 4-bed room, with our own bathroom, and it's definitely the roomiest accommodation since our Paris apartment. It's very nice. The hostel is extremely organised with bars/tours/laundry etc.

We dressed up warm to go on a beer tour, which takes you to the beer halls and beer gardens in Munich, as it's very cultural. But the tours don't run if there aren't at least ten people, and when we fronted up, it was just Alfie, Sean and I. So the tour didn't run, but we had a nice chat to the tour guide. Instead, we came back to the hostel. Happy Hour runs from 6pm-9pm and they have FANTASTIC specials. So we went down to the bar and met a guy from Dublin, who had extremely helpful travel advice for both Dublin and Munich, and a guy from Moscow who had a strong fondness for Cara. Unfortunately, the language barrier was also pretty strong. It's only 8.30pm here, and I plan on going back down to socialise, but I am getting extremely tired. Tomorrow we want to do a Free Tour, and maybe see if the Beer Tour is running again. On Wednesday we want to do a full day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle (Mum!!) so we can't tire ourselves out.

Miss ya'll! Hope you're enjoying the weather!

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Laundry day (guest appearance by snow)

Today was our second (and last) full day in Prague. There was so much I wanted to fit in today and I ended up doing a grand total of not much. I was too tired. And I figure I never would have fitted everything in anyway so I'll just have to come back another time. I think I would stay for a week next time. And preferably not when temperatures are reaching record lows.

I slept in, having nothing specific to wake up for, which I'm starting to think of as a real luxury. After slow breakfast, slow shower, and slow Facebooking, Sean and I took some laundry to a laundromat and went to investigate tickets to Munich. Our train leaves at 9.07am tomorrow, but the train station won't take long to walk to, so I think we'll be right. The language barrier has been, I think, the most difficult in Prague. Dutch and Czech are much harder to speak than French or German, but everyone in The Netherlands speaks pretty much perfect English, so we didn't notice it much in Amsterdam. But in Prague, there are not too many fluent English speakers. Which is totally, 100% fine. As I've said before, I am staggered at their abilities to cope with such an influx of international languages. In Australia we don't really have any need to learn much other than English, so we don't fully appreciate how difficult it must be to deal with tourists who don't speak our language on a daily basis.

As we walked back from the laundry, it began to snow. It was one of the coolest things I've ever seen. It was light snow, it kind of flew at your face and you could feel yourself inhaling the flakes, and they tickled your skin. I've not actually been outside while snow has been falling before and it was magic. It was very peaceful. So much so, that when I got home with my laundry, I went for a walk. I bought some earrings (as I've decided they will be my staple souvenir from each city) and I bought a cup of mulled wine from a street vendor. And it wasn't even cold enough to bother me, because I hadn't been standing in it for three hours like I was the day before. But it was lovely, walking through Prague while it snowed. I tried really hard to imprint as much of it on my memory as I could.

Since I got back I have done a lot of lazing about. We had more of Cara's spaghetti for dinner and Sean has gone on a beer tour, which I'm sure he will adore. I wasn't quite feeling energetic enough for a beer tour, so an early night for me because we have an early start tomorrow.


Saturday, 4 February 2012

Frozen Czech

This morning we all woke up feeling incredibly refreshed. A good, long sleep can do wonders. We have skylights in our room which lets the sun flood in, but it didn't even wake us. I eventually got up and Skyped Mum and Dad (and Riley and Brondi) and it was wonderful to catch up after a week. We thought we'd try to catch the 10.45am walking tour, but we ended up taking too long with showers etc and so we went out for a lengthy breakfast. That ended up costing more than dinner last night. Okay, so we learnt from that. European street/supermarket food is incredibly cheap and tasty, but restaurants are a bit of a rip-off, particularly, and obviously, in touristy areas. We went and bought an enormous bunch of groceries to make pasta tonight, with lots of meat, vegetables and bolognese. Then we ducked back into the hostel (where it was WARM) for an hour or so to organise photos etc. We ended up making the 2pm walking tour instead. I can't recommend these Sandemans tours highly enough. They are so entertaining and informative and it only costs you a tip (or nothing, if you want to be uber stingy and mean).

We met in Old Town Square, where our lovely guide, Jakub, told us that he was actually born in Prague, grew up in London and Kenya, and went to uni in Scotland and Barcelona, before returning to Prague to live. Over the course of this tour, he told us about his family, using his two grandfathers as examples of the impact historical events can have on relationships between people, even if the people involved are from the same place. Having such a personal touch (Jakub was a toddler during the Velvet Revolution, and attended the peaceful protests with his grandfather, much to his grandmother's chagrin) really enhanced the tour. In the Old Town Square we saw the Tyn Cathedral (with the right column slightly bigger than the left column, to represent Adam and Eve), St Nicholas' Church, and the place where the old town hall once stood before it was bombed. You can still see the half-formed windows that were blown apart in the explosion. There is the statue dedicated to Jan Hus, the religious reformer, and of course, the Astronomical Clock. The clockmaker was blinded by the government to ensure he could never recreate such a beautiful clock in another city. It is 600 years old, still operates on the same mechanism, and in that time has only become 9 minutes slow. It also won an award for most underwhelming attraction in the world. Hmmm. Well, I thought it was lovely. Jakub did an excellent and very humorous impression of the 23 second long display by the clock statues.

We saw the oldest part of Charles University where the graduations take place, and the theatre where Mozart's 'Don Giovanni' was first performed (and Amadeus was filmed). There is an extra creepy statue of a hooded figure out the front to commemorate this (think Ringwraith/Dementor). The statue is hollow and legend has it that it goes all the way down to Hell. If you write down an evil you wish against your enemies, you throw it in the statue and Satan receives it in Hell and will review it, to see if he wants to carry out your wishes. It's also famous because drunk English tourists seem to think it's a good idea to get drunk and try to climb in it. They get stuck and the statue has to be cut open to get them out. We saw Wenceslas Square with the Muzeum at the end (where Casino Royale was filmed). There are plaques commemorating students who doused themselves in petrol and set themselves alight in protest of the Soviet invasion of 68-69. We walked along what was once the moat around the city - Powder Tower, that stored gunpowder, is pretty much all that is left of the city walls. It marks the entrance that leads up to Prague Castle and is next to Municipal House. We then walked to the church of St Jakub, where we were told a fascinating story about a thief that broke in to the church and decided to steal the Madonna's necklace. As soon as he reached for the necklace, the statue of the Madonna came to life and seized his wrist. No matter how the thief repented and pleaded, the statue would not release his arm. The next morning, the priests discovered him and tried to soak his arm in oil and butter to slide it out of the statue's grip. Nothing worked, and eventually they decided to chop off his arm. The thief freaked out and told them to get rid of the statue's arm, but the priests feared reprisal from the statue, which had now proven itself alive. So they chopped off the thief's arm. He screamed and carried on and fell to the ground, armless. As soon as this happened, the statue released the dead arm and went back to cradling Baby Jesus. Don't mess with Mary. The thief regained consciousness and fled, never to be seen again. The priests hung the hand from the ceiling as a warning to thieves and it remains there to this day. I took a photo of it.

After this we had a break and consumed mulled wine. This is amazingly yummy. It's basically hot, sweet wine, and goes down like a treat when you are that freezing. Then it was onto the Jewish Quarter. We saw the statue of Kafka, on the shoulders of one of his characters, and the Spanish Synagogue, we saw buildings built with Communist and Cubist architecture, and the Old New Synagogue (the oldest synagogue in Europe). According to legend, the Golem is inside the attic of this synagogue, and no one has been up there in centuries, with the exception of a Nazi soldier. This soldier insisted on seeing the attic, so they opened the door and then shut him inside, locking it. He's not been seen since. Nearby is the Jewish cemetery. I referred to this earlier in my blog - it is the inspiration for the memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin. The ground is extremely hilly and the gravestones are very close together because the Jews were not given enough room to bury their dead. So they added more soil and stacked grave upon grave. The only reason the cemetery still exists (as the Nazis tried to wipe out most evidence that Jews had ever occupied any residences in Europe) is because Hitler apparently intended Prague as a future museum for the future extinct race. Bite me, Hitler. Bite me.

We then saw the Pinkas Synagogue, which is now a Holocaust museum. There are 80,000 names and dates, of the 80,000 Czech Jews that died in WW2, carved on a white wall. There is also an exhibition of art done by Jewish children in the Terezin concentration camp. Mrs Freidl Dicker-Brandeis organised it as a sort of therapy to help the children deal with what was happening to them and their families. She told them to draw their happiest memories and hold onto that memory as tight as they could. Friedl Dicker-Brandeis boarded a train to Auschwitz knowing she was headed to certain death, so she hid the drawings in the attic and they were discovered after the camp was liberated and were then put on display. We heard all this from our guide, but we didn't have time to actually go in and see any of it. This was so disappointing, because it sounds fascinating. We were also told about the humanitarian work of Sir Nicholas Winton, a hero of the Holocaust. Google him, he's amazing.

We ended the tour in the freezing cold (apparently it was minus 11 but it felt like minus 2000) in front of the Rudolfinum, which is a beautiful concert hall with amazing views of Prague Castle and the Parliament House. Our tour guide told us about a hilarious episode with the President of Prague stealing a pen in front of the world media. Watch the youtube clip, it's great:

Apparently, after this happened, a Facebook group was started and the people of Czech mailed him 18,000 pens and pencils. Silly, silly man. Here, Jakub told us more about his grandfathers, Dimitri and Josef. For decades, they couldn't stand to be in the same room as one another, having come from opposite ends of the political spectrum. Despite both being Czech men, neither of them Jews, the country has gone through so many political, social and cultural changes that have seen many people betrayed by those they put their trust in, and many people have been elevated to levels of such status, only to have it snatched away by the arrival of a new ruling power. As a result, it took years and years for Josef and Dimitri to bury the hatchet and the painful memories in order to get along for the sake of their joined families. It was a terribly interesting story, and a great way to put perspective on everything we had learned in the previous three hours.

We were nicely frozen by now, unaware if any of our toes had survived. We headed back to the hostel, taking a train to stay warm, even though it wasn't a very long walk. We got back and Cara cooked up an amazing spaghetti with the groceries we had bought and now we are chilling in our room. Being so cold is amazingly tiring, but we want to be feeling good for tomorrow, so it will probably be another early night!

Until tomorrow then!

Friday, 3 February 2012


Last night was a pretty chilled night for our last night in Berlin. We would have loved to have gone out and partied a bit, but we were just so exhausted. Being so cold all the time really takes it out of you. That being said, we spent the evening at the hostel chatting to heaps of awesome people we met, so it wasn't a wasted evening. This morning we were the Berlin Hauptbahnhof in time to catch a 10.45am train to Prague. It was a direct route, thankfully, and we only moved once. The ride took just under 5 hours, but my goodness, the scenery was beautiful. We trained along a lot of rivers that had beautiful valleys with summer cabins lined up along the river and the edge of the woods. It seriously looked like something out of a fairytale. Training across Europe is such a comfortable way to travel, and it means you see so much of the countryside. We saw people ice-skating on the frozen rivers, and even a herd of wild deer!

When we got into Prague we found our hostel pretty easily and we were all hit with an extreme wave of tiredness. We ended up walking to a pizzeria for dinner and have since all crawled back to our dorm and expect to stay here until we fall asleep. Tomorrow we will do another one of those awesome free walking tours.


Thursday, 2 February 2012

Final day in Berlin

Last night we partook in amazing salad and pasta with zucchini sauce. It was extremely delicious, and we then had a very chilled night chatting to people and eating chocolate. This morning after a failed Skype attempt, we went to Hauptbahnhof to double-check we could get to Prague tomorrow and then Cara headed to the Kennedy museum and Sean, Alfie and I went to the German Historical Museum. Our tour guide the other day had told us it was his favourite museum in Berlin and we had good reports from people at our hostel who had been yesterday. For 6 euro, you get access to their permanent exhibition as well as their temporary exhibitions, and it is easily the sort of place you could spend the entire day. We only had a portion of the afternoon, and therefore only had the time to walk through the permanent exhibition. It pretty much runs through every single aspect of German history you can think of, from pre-medieval times to about 1994. They have all sorts of cool artefacts, films, documents and photographs, and most of the descriptions are in German and English, so it is clear what you are looking at. I was quite tired, and I don't feel as though I appreciated it as much as I could have if I were feeling more sprightly, but I'm glad I went. We had loosely planned to meet up at Spreepark with some people from our hostel. Spreepark is an abandoned amusement park in East Berlin that you can jump the fence and see all the old attractions. But by the time we left the Historical Museum, it was getting pretty cold and dark so we headed home. We will probably go and buy some ingredients for dinner tonight, and I don't think we'll go out. We need to be up and packed tomorrow to head to Prague! It seems a pity to be leaving Berlin; it's definitely a place I could stay in much longer to drink in more history. And the food and alcohol is so cheap! But we have heard wonderful things about Prague, so I am looking forward to that too.


Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Pubs and memorials

Soooo, I ended up doing the pub crawl last night. I am so glad I did, we had stacks of fun. The cold wasn't even very bothersome, because all the pubs were very warm and we walked quickly between them. It's called the 'alternative pub crawl' and boasts that it takes you to the hidden pubs/clubs of Berlin ie, those off the tourist circuit. And alternative they were. We started at 'Yesterday', a tiny little pub near the hostel with cute stuff hanging from the ceiling, very dim, red lights, a Jim Morrison mural and the walls covered in scribbled notebooks and other cool paintings. Sean and I bought a beer and a Strongbow for 2.50 euro each. Alcohol here is incredibly, incredibly cheap. The pub crawl itself cost 10 euro and for that price you get entry into 5 or 6 places and 6 shots. After that we headed to a gothic horror bar, of which I have forgotten the name. The sweetest, nicest goth bartender you ever did see gave me great advice on which absinthe I should try, having never tried it before. The bar had coffins for tables and big iron chandeliers hanging from the ceilings. It had skulls and horns everywhere, and spiders and skeletons painted on the walls, but they were so friendly. A lot of the places we ended up were really not very busy. The tour itself was made up of only people from our hostel - Sean and I, Benny from Newcastle, a couple from Turkey, and 4 boys from Bath who all study together. The tour guide, Sarah, was from Lancaster and was totally sweet. We had amazing DnM's while I was sobering up from the absinthe. After the gothic horror bar we went to Dr Pong, which is a bar where you can rent paddles for 5 euro and play ping pong. None of our group did because we were on a schedule and the table was quite full. But it was great fun to watch. And there was a random Jack Russell chilling in the bar with us. Next we went to an absinthe bar called, funnily enough, The Absinthe Bar. There were shots of cannabis absinthe for 4 euro. I did not partake - I was still full of the first absinthe - but it was a fun bar all the same. The next and final place they were going was a club, pretty much an old warehouse where they hold raves and stuff. Sean and I aren't really into clubbing, and if we left after the absinthe bar we could sneak onto a night bus and not have to buy another ticket. If we went to the club we would have had to pay for a cab home. So at 1am we bid adieu to the tour and jumped on a short bus ride back to Senefelder Platz. I tried very hard not to wake Cara and Alfie and ended up reading for a bit before falling asleep. Sean stayed up and played drinking games with some French people, then proceeded to repeatedly wake me as he got in and out of bed for the rest of the night. Nah, it wasn't that bad. We had an awesome night, and are really glad we went.

This morning we slept until about 11.30. Our first sleep-in since we arrived and it was AMAZING. We dragged ourselves into showers and downstairs for breakfast and had a very leisurely start to the day. Alfie felt ill, so she stayed at the hostel, but Cara, Sean and I decided to go back to the memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe and go to the free museum underneath. It was completely soul-crushing. I definitely recommend it - it is an unbelievably beautiful and respectful tribute to all the lost lives - but bring tissues and don't go on a day when you are feeling fragile. It got to the point where I actually had to stop reading and looking and listening. It all got too much and Cara and I used up all our tissues and had to buy more. Everyone knows about the Holocaust and most Australian kids learn about it in school, but I didn't anticipate the sheer weight of sadness that descends upon you when you read stories and letters and see pictures of what happened. Not only does it make you dreadfully sad, but I was getting more and more furious at the injustice. Imagining my own family being split up and persecuted was more than I could handle. When we finally emerged into the sunshine again, we all felt extremely drained. That being said, I'm glad I went. Like I said, it's a wonderful tribute. But I don't think I could do it again any time soon.

We made our way back through the metro, stopping to buy sandwiches and chips and currywurst, and are sitting at the hostel chilling out. We are all still really tired, but it's so nice to not have anything to rush off for. The hostel is providing another free dinner tonight, so I think we'll help prepare that, and then I plan to stay in tonight and chat to more people.

Auf weidersehn!