December 2016. How magical it was! I landed in Frankfurt, Germany and spent a few days there recovering from my AUS –> Europe flight. Caught the train for 1hr north and voila, arrived in Cologne (or Koln as the locals know it). Once you step outside the main train station, there is the Cologne Cathedral- ominous yet magnificent, casting a shadow in front of you. It is what you expect of a gothic church- amazing, grand (in every sense) and dark (you know, that we haven’t water gun cleaned it (can you even do this to UNESCO listed sites?)).
The 1 thing I was most looking forward to was the Christmas markets. Boy oh boy were they amazing. Amazing atmosphere and location!
For the chocolate lovers, be sure to stop by the harbour side Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum (they give out free waffle stick dipped in chocolate!). You can see how cacao seeds get to chocolate form that we all know and love and see machines in action. Great for the kids or a rainy day.
During my visit, I also went to the EL-DE Haus which was the former headquarters of the Gestapo turned museum. This normal looking building on the outside houses original basement chambers which were used to keep prisoners and a courtyard used for executions. The walls are still covered in pencil markings and etching. It was so eery in the basement even with many visitors in there. It is well preserved and am so glad that it is. There is great information and I think that there is a good balance between allowing visitors to see the bare walls and also information panels. Definitely one for the history buffs or those who want to explore Germany’s past.
Cologne has so many more museums in what is a great tourist friendly and interesting town. Be sure to add this to your list if visiting Germany!
What are also great museums or places to see in Cologne?
I thought I would put together a helpful and quick guide to all the things you need to know prior and during your stay in Barcelona- a favourite city of mine.
Airport to Barcelona city centre
This has got to be one of the most stressful parts of a journey. Upon exiting the airport, follow the crowd and signs to bus stop to the city. I used Aerobus. It’s located downstairs from the arrivals hall. When I was there, the ticket line for the vending machines were huge! You can pre-book tickets and also line up for the bus and pay at the front of the bus (but this is really slow). There are 4 stops towards the city-centre, so check the location of where you need to get off against these stops. For travellers, this is generally the last stop: Plaza Catalunya.
- 35 minutes trip, buses running every 5 minutes and bus runs everyday all year round.
- Tip: buy a return ticket when you first purchase as it’s cheaper than buying 2 single tickets.
Public transport around Barcelona
Barcelona has a brilliant metro system and if you’re just visiting the major sites, is the perfect way to get around. The city centre is also quite easy to navigate on-foot so be sure to check the location of your accommodation and what you wish to see during your time there. For visitors, there are 2 tickets that are always recommended again and again. The 10 pass ticket (€9.95) that allows travel for 10 trips on buses (excluding airport buses) or metro or day passes which offer unlimited travel for the duration of its validity (3, 4 or 5 days validity). Another option is the tourist travel pass which offers unlimited public transport use and also tickets to major sites.
Tickets to major sites
By major sites, I mean anything Gaudi related. You will need to pre-book these tickets in advance as the lines are not worth your precious holiday time! Each venue will have its own website so make sure you’re onto this ASAP as Barcelona is a very busy city and sessions can often be booked out.
To see what I got up to when I went to visit Barcelona click here.
Do you have any more quick tips for visitors to Barcelona? Leave them in the comments below!
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I found out about Blablacar through locals that I had met in Europe. This service is alittle like Airbnb- essentially, drivers list their trip on blablacar and you can pay for a seat and be a passenger. The website has a review process where you can rate the driver and their driving skills and they can also rate passengers. Once you’ve locked in a trip, you pay (with card) and then get a code to give your driver after your journey. All of this is done via the site but the only thing you do need to sort out with the driver is a meeting place.
- It is cheap! I found that the trips were about half the price (if not more) than a bus or train tickets. If you’re regularly moving around a country, these travel costs can add up quickly and also leave little room to be flexible if train costs increase closer to travel dates. I thought that blablacar helped to cut travel costs during my holiday.
- You get to meet locals. I love meeting new people on trips and what better place than being in the same car with each other. We have chatted about life in our respective countries, our dreams and life in general. One of my drivers is actually in Australia at the moment and hopefully we will get to catch up!
- You can see part of the country. What better way to see the views than the front passenger seat of a car! I found that my drivers would point out different things along the way and we also got to talk about road tolls!
- You can pick who you want to take the trip with. This is dependent on what towns you’re travelling between as some towns tend to have alot of trips happening and some with not so much. If you have choice, you can pick which age group/gender you want to travel with which I think is a good thing.
- Language barrier. On one of my trips, there was a huge language barrier (I can’t speak spanish) and the driver couldn’t speak english. BUT WE MANAGED. It can be awkward if there is a language barrier but it’s generally ok.
- Meeting place. Once a driver agrees to take you, you both have to settle on a meeting place. Usually, the driver has the final say and it can be hard to try and find a place you can easily get to with your luggage without having transport costs blow out. I had very good luck and found someone where I could walk to most of the places but you might not always have this luxury.
And the first month of the year is over. This month I have felt so motivated to work on my New Year Resolutions and have done at least 1 and 1/4th. The first one I’ve ticked off is made my travel photo album. I picked some pictures out from each trip of places that I had a memory attached to it or were linked to some significant even/thoughts. I printed them off and have filled half my album. Which only means more trips to fill in the rest!
These pictures were from my last trip to Europe in late 2015. Here are their links incase you’ve missed it.
In other news, I came across this article on Fast Fashion Problems which was written by Alden Wicker and her blog is here. I thoroughly enjoyed reading her blog which had many thoughtful articles to keep pondering over, check it out if it’s a topic you’re interested in or if you just want to see!
See you at the end of February!
I have previously blogged about why I was Helsinki here. Finland is not classified as part of Scandinavia and that’s ok. It has so many things to offer in itself although not in a flashy way. Everything feels more muted and are just waiting for you to find. Despite “living” there for 3 weeks, I still wish I had more time to see more of this beautiful city and country.
This was the first ever winter destination I have been so it holds a special place in my heart. Crisp blue skies and even more crisp snow under my feet, plenty good photos were to be taken. Every direction was just as picturesque as the next and the architecture is such a collection that I think, makes this city so stereotypically different from many others. A mix of the European classical coloured buildings and modern architecture plus a number of churches with little sky scrappers makes Helsinki feel special.
I had heard little of Finland before I knew I was going to go there. But walking around, it’s like the innovative and creative design hubs of Finland are just hidden and waiting to explode into the world (think Nokia) just modestly from these ordinary buildings.
I discovered some delicious pastries! Piirakka was one of my favourites- a rye base with fillings of rice, potatoes or carrots, and I would buy some whenever I could. Korvapuusti- a cinnamon roll, was also a nice tea-time snack with coffee (although to be fair, I’m abit of a coffee snob and no-one does coffee like us Australians). I tried reindeer which is often served with lingonberry jam. Cloudberry jam and seabuckthorn jam were brought home as heavy gifts (available from Stockmanns). A friend from the lab gave me some good old liquorice lollies each with a varying taste of saltiness. I had never seen so many liquorice lollies in a supermarket aisle in my life. I also tried the famous liquorice shot Salmiakki (easy to drink but you will pay for it later ;)).
Sites that I visited:
- Kauppatori: It was the end of Winter when I visited so the market was quite small with no fish for sale when I went but food and handicraft stalls instead. And a very frozen lake (or is it sea?).
- Suomenlinna: Great day trip out to be surrounded by nature. Pictures to come in another post.
- Kiasma: Contemporary art museum. I spent a good few hours there and loved the architecture of the museum.
- Kansallismuseo: National Museum, it was ok. I went after Uni one day- can’t say it was overly impressive (think shelves and shelves of archaeological artifacts).
- Temppeliaukio Kirkko: The church in a rock, hidden in residential streets, it’s not a very far walk from the main strip and is definitely something different to see.
- Ice skating at the outdoor rink outside the Main Railway Station
- Had a drink at Ateljee Bar which gives you a panoramic view of the city.
- Had a peep in the Design Forum. If only I had more money and more luggage room.
What I wished I spent more time on:
- Walking and browsing the design district
- Entering Uspenski and Tuomiokirkko churches
- Eaten out more
If you have visited Helsinki, what did you think? Are there any other things I should add to my list for next time? Are you thinking about travelling to Helsinki? Let me know in the comments.
Paris. One of the most charming cities in the world. It would be even more charming if tourist scammers weren’t out and about at every major site trying to get you to hand over money. The Eiffel Tour, Montmarte and even Gare du Nord are swarming with these scammers on unsuspecting visitors so without further ado, let us go throw the ones I have encountered or been told about.
1. Gypsies asking you if you speak english and whether you can sign a petition.
This is a petition you sign to say that you will hand them money and once it seems like you won’t be paying up, more gypsies appear around you so there is no escape.
2. The bracelet test.
These scammers will appear lovingly to you and will try to tie a bracelet around your wrist. They will tie it so tie, oops will you look at that, it’s stuck on your wrist so you’ve technically bought it, so please, pay up now. They don’t tell you any of that by the way.
3. Let me show you how you can win money by guessing where my ball is.
You will see a group of men standing around a towel on the floor and metal cups trying to guess which cup the ball is under. If you think this is what the elderly play in France, i am afraid you are wrong. These men are working together and once you hand over your minimum bet, it will be IMPOSSIBLE for you to win. Magicians or not, the game is most likely rigged and not in your favour.
4. Crowds around an entertainer
I think this is standard in major cities. Just watch out for your pockets and bags because who knows what group of thieves are working together.
Like any major city, if you do your research and know what to avoid, you can avoid it. A simple no, thank you or non merci and walking away will usually do the trick. Paris is an amazing city so don’t let the scammers put you off! I hope this has been useful information!
A Paris lover,
For those of you out there planning this years travel, considering a trip or considering using Airbnb but aren’t too sure, this post is for you!
Airbnb is such a great accommodation tool now and has gained more popularity. For those you haven’t tried it yet or want to find out more information, here is my list. I’ve stayed at approximately 10 different Airbnb properties in 10 different towns so here is what I’ve learnt from those experiences.
- Bargain prices to be found: Let’s face it, travelling can be expensive especially if you’re travelling as a family. You will need to compare against hotel/hostel prices in places where you’re travelling to but from my experience, I have found that Airbnb is either cheaper or a better deal. By this I mean, if i paid a few more dollars- I could have an entire apartment with a kitchen which would then save on food costs. So it’s worth checking out even if you’ve never used it before.
- Living with a local: If you’re travelling somewhere where you’ve been before and want an “insider” tip to the city, booking a private room in a house or an apartment could be a good option. Not only are your hosts there to offer you a place, there is a local expert in the house! You can ask them for their favourite restaurants, shops or events to truly get a local feel of a place.
- Use of shared equipment: One of the biggest pro’s I find is the ability to use their kitchen and washing machine. Food and washing are just added expenses to your trip so if you can find a way around it, then I would be all for it. Of course, some places might charge you to do laundry but this should be stated on the accommodation listing so keep an eye out for it. Or else, you have the option of asking before booking.
- Reviews: I love love love that you get the chance to review your host and the place as well as being reviewed. I have found through experience that it is a good idea to read every single review incase there is something hidden or just to get the jist of the place and host. I have also been annoyed at other guests not leaving helpful reviews so I urge you to write one after your stay to help out fellow travellers.
- Cancelling comes with a price: There may be times when plans fall through or you’ve changed your mind. It’s super easy to cancel a booking and you do get your money back (depending on how many days you’ve cancelled in advance, check this!) but you won’t be getting back the Airbnb admin fee. Things happen but this sucks. This is in comparison to hotel and hostel cancelling fees (especially when booked through bookings.com) where for some, cancelling is free.
- Untruthful hosts: This is why it is so important to read and leave good reviews! We like to believe the best in people but sadly, the best of people isn’t always there. Always always read the whole listing description and feel free to ask questions. Even then, as I have learnt, you might still be surprised by things not seeming as they should be.
- No fence-sitter: If you were staying at a hostel or hotel and had a problem, you could easily see reception to get your problem fixed. However, when you’re staying in someone else’s place, well….they have their own best interests and you have yours. There is no immediate mediator (apart from Airbnb) and raising an issue could make the rest of your stay awkward. This is obviously different from person to person (maybe you would raise the issue) but I would feel awkward if something didn’t turn out as listed and I brought it up but still lived in their place.
So all in all, I guess you can’t really know until you go! I have mostly had brilliant hosts and places were mostly as listed (and if not, I have written reviews saying so). Also remember that someone else is offering up their home to a complete stranger so the uncomfortable non-trusting feelings run on both sides.
If you have used Airbnb, what do you think of my list? Would you add anything else? If you haven’t used Airbnb, what are the things that are stopping you from using it? I’d love to discuss in the comments so leave one there!
I’m always writing about places on the otherside of the world and saw a video of someone doing the pros and cons of Sydney so I thought that I would do my own! For those who don’t know, I am born and raised in Sydney so let me run you through the list about Sydney.
- Weather: For one, we can see blue skies. We have a very mild winter (day temperature around the 16C mark and nights around 8C) so for most of the year, our temperature is generally around the 20C mark. Our summers stretch usually over 3 months and we do get the occasional +35C but luckily, there are not that many.
- Multicultural: One thing I do miss when I go travelling is the multiculturism (is that even a word?) of the society that I have grown up in. Depending where you stay/visit in Sydney, there are ethnic groups dotted around in the suburbs but generally, you can find just about every cuisine from every culture in Sydney. It is safe to say that many Australians have grown up eating Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Lebanese and Greek food (plus many more).
- Beaches: I have yet to go to a beach overseas and thought “Hey, this is better than the beaches back home”. Actual soft sand, clear waters and views of the infinite ocean is what Australia is all about. Bondi, Manly, Coogee, Maroubra…..take your pick!
- Harbour: It’s not everyday that you can roll into a train station such as Circular Quay and get a view of the iconic Harbour Bridge with clear waters glistening under it, or take a ferry to the north side of the city or be sitting in an office near the harbour and looking out to see water (if you’re a lucky duck!).
- Flora and Fauna: Being so far from other countries means that we’ve been able to keep our native animals and plants just to Australia. Kangaroos, Koalas, Echidnas, Kookaburras and our assorted deadly spiders and snakes are all a must see whilst you’re here.
- Food and drinks: There are many bars, dessert places and restaurants to try all over the city and in the suburbs and of any cuisine you wish. Despite there not being many “real Australian” foods, there are many others you can enjoy.
- Expensive: You will hear that Sydney is expensive again and again because guess what? it’s true! $4 aud for a cup of coffee, $10 for lunch, $20 for a movie ticket, $10 for one train ticket, the list goes on and on. Once you step outside your expensive house or expensively rented room, money will start to fly from your wallet you don’t know where it all went. Of course, there are cost saving ways but living in Sydney is expensive stuff.
- Transport: Forget about the Paris, London and Hong Kong metro systems, we travel by train, buses, ferry or cars here. All transport run to a timetable so your journey is pretty much set. As Sydney’s metropolitan area is HUGE (spanning some 50km from the city centre), it takes ages to get anywhere. A train ride from Central to the Blue Mountains will take approximately 2 hours and buses from the beach to the city centre will be likely to take at least 30 minutes (if there is no traffic). ALSO, they are all slow.
- Everything is so spread out: Following on from the previous point, most people live in houses so the Sydney area is huge. Forget about being able to walk 5-10 minutes to the grocery store (some exceptions of course), it is likely to be a 5-10 minutes drive instead. If you’re lucky to live near a train station, lucky you!, if not- a slow bus plus a slow train will make your journey exceed 1 hour easily.
- Traffic: I guess this is a problem in every major city and it is not different here. If you fancy sitting on a motorway-turned-parking-lot, take your pick of any of the motorways in peak hour and you’ll find it. There is also human traffic. Go to any of the major festivals running in Sydney and you will know what I mean. Queuing up 1 hour to get some food at the Night Noodle Market? Done.
- Lack of green: This is something that I wished our city would have more of. Greenery! More parks and trees in streets. More bike routes, more eco-friendly consumables, ban on plastic bags (Ok, this is getting too opinionated).
So that’s my list, if you have been to/live in Sydney, do you agree or disagree with my list? Linke me your pros and cons of your city!