A Travellerspoint blog

Snow in Cappadocia

-15 °C

Much to our surprise, we arrive to find Cappadocia covered in snow. Cappadocia is a region in Central Anatolia, Turkey and we stay in Goreme, a small village town famous for its fairy chimneys, cave houses and open air museum. The region of Cappadicia features some of the most spectacular landscapes made all the more special to see it covered in snow.

It is popular for tourists to come here for hot air ballooning, not our go, but an amazing site to see so many balloons over the valleys. We got to meet Chez Gallip a famous potter in the region, also known as the Turkish Einstein. He is considered a master and an artist in his craft, and is referred to as "master" by those who surround him. Here are some pics.

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Posted by harpellar 12:47 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Once we went to Paris

overcast 5 °C

So here we are in Paris. It is cold, it is overcast, but, we are in Paris.

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The city has so much history, culture and colour to explore, with unique experiences to be had depending on which district you are in, it is a difficult task for just 10 days. Many of the museums require a full day alone, so we have to be organised if we are to fit everything in.

We rent an apartment off AirBnB in Simplon, which is in the 18th arr and around 20 minutes by metro to the centre of Paris. We arrive to the apartment and retrieve a key, waiting under the door mat. We enter to find an apartment which looks as though its inhabitants have fled in a hurry. All of their belongings populate the apartment, dishes are in the sink, we are not sure if this is the right place, or if we are trespassing. After rummaging through some of the belongings we find a card with the guy who we had been liaising withs name on it. Good, we are not breaking and entering.

We find Paris like Belgium in the swing of Christmas celebrations. Between Place de la Concorde and the shopping strip of Champs-Élysées are lined with more Christmas Markets than we have ever seen. We are disappointed to find things severely overpriced, which really stops you from hanging around, and enjoying the lights and festivities. Unlike in Bruges these markets seem very much aimed at tourists, or at least, don't have the same local feel and charm. Never the less the city is beautifully lit, with decorations draped and hung from trees which line many of the streets.

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Our apartment is located around a 30 minutes on foot from Montmartre, but after 6 nights we move apartments and make this our home. It is a district that was once home to the likes of Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Piccaso, Salvador Dali and Eric Satie to name a few. It is said that they all lived there due to the low tax on alcohol and cheap rent, however I suspect that this is no longer the case. It is now a popular place for tourists with the main attractions being the Basilica Sacre Coeur found atop the hill, and the Moulon Rouge very close by. It is a very lively district with a bustling nightlife and many interesting characters to observe, including this Michael Jackson impersonator. He moved so swiftly I couldn't snap a clear picture of him.

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Montmartre is located on the only hill in Paris and is made up of a maze of stairs. It has some splendid views of the city and also features some of the most aggressive "gypos" in Europe. This time they are forcefully trying to tie a synthetic bracelet around your wrist, actually grabbing at you as you pass. After they secure it to a niave passerby, they demand a ridiculous price for the honour. One of the many tourist traps in Paris at the moment.

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Here are some pics taken in and around Montmartre, still a place where artists, and some that I wouldn't call artists sit and work.

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We had a magical 10 days in Paris, despite not getting many visits from the sun. Here are some more pics.

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Notre Dame
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A man spreading some cheer in his green van. Just doing laps of the street blaring music and blowing bubbles.
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Renault concept car
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Arc de Triumph
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Pont Alexandre Bridge
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Moroccan dinner
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Opera House
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Musee d'Orsay
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Hotel Invalids, great french war history museum, spanning though centuries of french army history. This is Napolians actual outfit. Only a little fella. The complex also contains Napolians tomb and Charles de Gaulle.
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Posted by harpellar 23:58 Archived in France Comments (0)

Dreaming of a white Christmas

overcast 4 °C

It really feels like winter now. Although it is still technically Autumn I am declaring that Winter is here. I am wearing more layers of clothing then ever in my life, starting with thermal pants and shirt, another shirt, a jumper/ hoody, my big rain/wind jacket, a scarf, beanie and gloves. I do not mind though and feel that I am getting used to it, however these are early days yet.

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The Christmas markets began the day before we left Bruges. I consider us very lucky to have timed our stay the way we did, it was really just dumb luck that it worked out that way. People really love Christmas here, it is a tradition that is different to the one I know at home, I suppose the fact that it is Winter plays its part. In the main market place an ice skating rink has been set up, encircled by fairy light lit trees, with one feature tree in the middle. Around that are little wooden market stalls selling all kinds of Winter and Christmas themed goods. From decorations, winter clothes, various sweets and drinks (including hot wine), but most importantly to me, big monster sausage rolls. With a towering back drop of the Belfry, a symbol of Bruges opulence and significants in the Middle Ages, as well as the other historic buildings in the square all lit with christmas lights, you can feel the sense of history and pride that the locals have for both their city and their traditions.

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I have already mentioned the chocolate shops, but they have since transformed again with Christmas decorations and lights framing the shop windows. There is a great warmth and comfort in leaving the cold street to visit one of the shops, and admire the artistry of their work. Chocolate too is a reason for national pride here, and the handmade care is on display all over the city.

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So sadly we leave another beautiful city, it is always sad to leave however new adventures await. For now it is off to Paris which we will reach via high speed train. Our last stay in Paris was very brief, this time we have 10 nights. I will finally get to make my own mind up about this famous city.

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Posted by harpellar 02:41 Archived in Belgium Comments (0)

Bruges

Bruges is beautiful beyond words. Picturesque and photogenic, at times it feels like I have stepped into a story book or have arrived in another time. With winter approaching the days are getting shorter and colder. At 4:30 it is getting quite dark but that is okay, for when the lights of the city come on it is something magical.

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We arrive on Sunday afternoon and our first exploration takes us to the city centre, where the city is busy in preparation for Christmas. The markets will begin on Friday and the stalls are already placed around town. Shop windows are full of christmas displays and being in Belgium christmas chocolates are in abundance.

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During the week the city is quiet, more often than not it is just us walking through the cobblestone streets. You can hear the horses galloping in the distance, pulling their carts behind them, and the bells of the Belfry ringing in the hours. By the canals you can watch the white swans who aren't shy about coming over to say hello (most likely hoping for food).

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Being in this chill everything you walk past is so very inviting. Through the windows restaurants and bars are dimly lit with fireplaces burning. You can smell the warmth as you walk the streets and can smell warm soups and stews cooking. Here we stopped into 'The Tea Room' where we enjoy tea and scones, that's right, tea and scones, by a fireplace.

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It is quiet enough here that often it is just us taking in this amazing city. Here are some pics.

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Posted by harpellar 13:02 Archived in Belgium Comments (0)

Ghent

overcast 6 °C

40 minutes northwest by train and we arrive in Ghent, in the Flemish region of Belgium. This is a city that boasts a medieval castle in the heart of town, canals that weave through the streets, and one of the more spectacular historic town centres.

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We are here for 3 nights, and we rent out the basement of a families home. Our basement has everything we need and after our introduction we don't see our hosts again.

We are just a 10 minute walk from the town centre, which we find mysteriously quiet in this, mid-November. The streets themselves are all but empty for much of our stay, apart from people out and about for the Friday markets, and again on Saturday morning. While the streets are virtually deserted, once you amble into one of the many cafes or bars you will locate the locals. Far more intelligent than us, they are finding refuge from the cold in the warm embrace of indoor heating. Luckily, thanks to Turkey, I am a tea man now, so I too can engage in this indoor world of cafes and coffee culture.

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In our time we visit the Ghent Altarpiece aka the 'Adoration of the Mystic Lamb' by the Van Eyck brothers. This is one of the most fasinating pieces of art I have ever seen, probably wouldn't have bothered only that Ali wanted to see it, but boy, it is some master piece, despite the missing panel which was stolen in 1934. We also visit the Ghent city museum, STAM which highlights the opulence and significants of Ghent through the Middle Ages. We visited the Castle of the Counts or Gravensteen. It is now more of a museum featuring medieval armour and weaponry, along with torture instruments and the like. It really looks like the castles from fairytales and sitting in the centre of town it is a unique feature of this city.

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The rest of our time was spent just taking in the city. I find it to be one of the more challenging to negotiate. For some reason I constantly get lost and loose my sense of direction. Maybe the constant mist contributed to this?

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The people of Ghent seem very proud of their history and their culture. We meet a lovely man in a warm pub one night who recommends us Augustine, a local beer, and we share a couple him. He is a very interesting charecter who is very cultured and wise.

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Oh, and we eat these little treats, they call them the 'nose of ghent'. Delicious, kind of tastes like a marshmallow crossed with a jube.

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Next stop Bruges.

Posted by harpellar 13:02 Archived in Belgium Comments (0)

Brussels for Man and his Dog

semi-overcast 9 °C

Sadly it is farewell to Istanbul as we head north bound for Belgium. We fly into Brussels via Kiev where we will have a brief 2 night stay before moving on to Ghent then Bruges over the next week or so. We have quite low expectations for Brussels after talking to other travellers and reading travel guides, but as usual you can not take others views as gospel. Like many things travelling is a subjective thing and what appeals to one may not appeal to another. We really enjoyed our time, as hurried as it was, I found Brussels to be a charming and beautiful place to visit, although it did bring our sunshine filled autumn to a grinding halt, as we were confronted with something that more closely resembled winter chill.

One of the real highlights was Grand Place the main square in Brussels. Architecturally this is one of the most, if not the most beautiful squares I have seen in Europe. Many of the buildings are decorated with gold which during the day glisten in the sun and by night glow in the moon and street lights. I don't believe I do it justice here.

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If you are a man, or a dog, good news, in Brussels they are thinking of you! with convenient roadside bathrooms. If you are a lady, you are out of luck, you'll still have to pay, unless of course you are able to conquer the urinal.

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Belgium being the home of Tin Tin, has some Tin Tin and other comic strips decorated around the city on the sides of buildings. If you have a city map you can go around and find them all, it's a nice quirky touch, that adds a little something extra when you stumble across one whist exploring.

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Brussels is really, really clean and pretty much everything looks like that trendy, boutique place that you can't afford to go into. The downside of the city is that it is quite expensive, but like anywhere you can find ways to stick to a budget, but I think sometimes it is nice to treat yourself. I indulged in some Belgian meatballs by a fireplace one cold night, and had a kebab under fluorescent light the next.

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It is most definitely starting to get cold up north, this is the first sign of real chill we have had. This also means however that Christmas is approaching, and we saw some of our first signs in Brussels shop windows. Christmas markets shouldn't be too far off.

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And here is the town mascot, Manneken Pis. In a guide I read that this to Brussels what the Statue of Liberty is to New York or Big Ben to London. He can be found all over town on souvenir key rings, mugs you name it, he is also made of chocolate and advertising Belgian waffles and fries (frites).

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Posted by harpellar 12:53 Archived in Belgium Comments (0)

Animals of Istanbul

Like we found in Romania, Istanbul too has cats and dogs who call the streets home. The locals seem to enjoy having them around and most of them seem to be kept well fed (some a little too well fed). It is quite strange though, particularly the dogs who are just hanging around and going about their business, the young and the old. We also came across a man and his goat just wandering through town enjoying some city grass. Here are a few of my favorite Istanbul locals I saw along the way.

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Posted by harpellar 12:48 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Taksim

Taksim is located on the opposite side of the Golden Horne to Sultanahmet, over the Galata Bridge. In recent months this has been the centre of the unrest and protests that have taken place in Istanbul. During our time we see the odd, very peaceful protests, but nothing on the scale that has been seen here. The police presence however is enormous. Heavily armed and in their hundreds they are a constant presence along the main strip. Riot gear and big police shielded buses are on standby, exactly for what, I'm not sure, I don't see a threat.

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All that aside, Taksim is known as the place to go if you want to party all night and day. I don't think I have ever seen a busier street than Istiklal Street (Independence Street) on a Saturday night. The street running from Taksim Square to Galata Tower is about 1.5kms. On a Saturday night the crowd is as dense as that of one of surging football fans flocking to a big game. It is a shopping street of sorts but also has food and buskers all along the way. If you branch off this main drag you will find loads of bars, restaurants and cafes which are buzzing of a night in particular. It has more of an alternate feel than the old town and it is a really fun place to be whatever time of day, as there is always something happening. Another great feature is the trolley tram that runs along the street and is a constant sight in Taksim, as are the guys selling chestnuts and bread roll pretzels. If you're game like me, try the wet hamburger a Taksim specialty.

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Sultanahmet to Taksim takes about one hour on foot or about 15 minutes on the tram then funicular. We mostly opted to walk, just because it is such a nice walk, and we were never in a hurry. Our route took through the grand bizarre, the spice bizarre then over the Goldern Horne where hundreds of fisherman set up along the Galata bridge everyday, quite a sight. Then the walk up the hill to Taksim from Karikoy has lots a little shops and graffiti to take in. Though it is a bit of a hill climb, it's not bad if you take your time.

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Here are a couple of pics of some of the turkish ice cream guys. This is quite a profession in Istanbul, they are real showman,making ordinary service of ice cream appear boring and unworthy of customers. They are the best show in town.

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Taksim is a must visit when in Istanbul.

Posted by harpellar 12:11 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Istanbul

Impressions and Sultanahmet (Old Town)

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We fly from Bucharest to Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen airport which is on the asian side of town. The entirety of Istanbul which encompasses many surrounding suburbs is the second largest city in the world with a population of around 14 million. This is apparent as we are driven into town. This place is packed, you would not find me behind the wheel here. It looks like complete chaos as peak hour traffic is coupled with men pulling trolleys overloaded with merchandise, as everyone attempts to share the same narrow streets. Once in town though the streets are very pedestrian friendly.

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Istanbul is a city that engages all of your senses at once. Visually it is unique, with mosques and their minarets dominating the skyline, streets are full of people down every turn, turkish flags hang from buildings and lamp posts, decorating the streets and the whole city feels like one big open market place. Spruikers confront you everywhere you go and spruik any product, their restaurants, freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, shoe shinning services, socks, water, even tattoos. It is an overwhelming onslaught at first, but eventually you realise that you can not give them all an explanation as to why you don't want what they are selling, so a polite "not today thanks" usually does the trick. They are however masters at grabbing your attention.

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We stay in the old town Sultanahmet, which is close to many of the cities major landmarks such as the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and The Grand Bizarre to name a few. From here you are able to walk to pretty much anything, if your not opposed to walking that is, or else the tram connects you to basically anywhere you want to go. We spend our first few days just taking in the immediate sites around the old town and quickly get taken in by the charming chaos of the city and the warmth and generosity of its people.

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The sounds of Istanbul are most unfamiliar, in particular the haunting, eerie sound of the call to prayer which reverberates to every corner of the city five times a day. The call to prayer is a live singer who recites a call to the muslim faithful reminding them it is time to come to pray. Each mosque of which there are a great many have there own singer, so when they all go off at once it is a cacophony of sound. Speakers placed on the minarets amplify the voices and the echoes can be heard wherever you are. At first the sound is quite surreal but eventually it just becomes a signpost as to what time of the day it is. The first one of the day before sun up has become an alarm clock of sorts over the last 2 weeks. This early call to prayer also has a unique line which says something along the lines of "worship is better than sleep".

We visit the Blue Mosque, which is the a spectacular site making up one end of Sultanahmet Square. Neither of us have been into a mosque before and Ali is required to cover her head when she enters. I am particularly fond of the nice plush carpet, it is deffinetely more warm and inviting than a catholic church.

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Directly opposite the Blue Mosque is Hagia Sophia. The two being in such close proximity is an amazing site and the square is a great place just to sit and relax. Hagia Sophia though is such a unique structure. Originally a church which went through multiple stages beginning in the 6th century, became a mosque when the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople. Now a museum were you can see Catholic and Muslim faiths intertwined in the one space. Although many parts of the Catholic decorations have been defaced and removed some remain and it is quite a space.

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We also visit Basilica Cistern or Sunken Palace which is hidden underground just near the Sultanahmet Square. It features 2 mysteriously placed Medusa heads which are used to hold up columns. It is beautifully lit and has ambient music echoing throughout.

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Istanbul has made an instant impression on us. An original plan of a one week stay quickly got extended to two. The people could not be any more hospitable, when they find out your Australian they want to look after you even more. "Harry Kewell!" many of them say. It is not uncommon to be offered a free apple tea by a stranger in the street, people just seem to want to look after each other and share what they have.

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So I am now a tea drinker after my time here, having gotten hooked on apple tea which they give you after meals. I now crave the stuff, quite odd for someone who has always hated any kind of hot drink. It's going to be very hard to leave Istanbul.

Posted by harpellar 12:04 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Florence

Beers in the gutter

semi-overcast 26 °C

26 September we jump on a high speed train bound for Florence where we will spend the next 2 nights. Our last visit was even more brief than this one and we were thrilled to be back. The city still has the mark of the great artists and minds that spent so much time here centuries ago. To stand in Palazzo della Signoria is quite amazing, a spectacle for your eyes. These days it is full of tourists, but it is great to wander though and get lost in the cities narrow streets where you can find many hidden gems, including some delicious panini. Having such a short time here we didn't attempt to visit all the museums but rather just strolled around to get a feel for the city. One of a favourite things to do was grab a beer and find somewhere to sit and just watch.

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On our last afternoon we make the trek up to Piazzale Michelangelo (Michelangelo Square) for the best panoramic views of the city. It was a very muggy day and there are many stairs to climb, but the view at the top is well worth the sweat, and leg aches.

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Posted by harpellar 11:10 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Milan

Yes we are definitely in Italy

sunny 27 °C

After a 7 hour train ride we arrive rather exhausted to Milan Central. It is immediately apparent where we are as we descend into the metro. A rapid fire of shady individuals, "english, english" they call, as they look to benefit from clueless tourists. They stand by the ticket machines trying to lure you to them, offering help to negotiate the machines hoping to collect your change or find an opportunity to pounce on someone's goods when they are distracted. We are very cautious and stare straight ahead trying not to attract any attention (a little hard whilst pulling along a 20kg bag). It is always a nervous time arriving in a new city, especially while lugging around all your gear, trying to work out where you're going and attempting to keep your wits about you. All part of the adventure though.

We survive the metro and arrive at Gamabra our metro stop, a short way out of the city centre where our modest little hotel can be found. After a brief rest we head out, this is where our pizza eating expedition around Italy begins. It will reach the peak of perfection when we arrive in Naples, here is a tease.

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Our first and only full day was spent just taking in the sites. Milan feels like a typical major Italian city, full of tourists, full of street traders trying to sell you junk, but it also has reminders of the high fashion capital it is known as. Parts of the city make you feel too cheap to tread your feet on the expensive marble ground, and you feel a little underdressed compared to some locals, however away from the main 'trendy areas' it is just Italy, full of history, culture, food and fun.

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Our hotel tell us about the student area of town which has cheap food and drinks, so we are keen to head out there to see what its all about. Instantly we feel more at home. We end up eating Kebabs in the park for lunch and at dinner time go to a place where you buy one drink, and get all you can eat. We drink and feast for a couple of hours. Great little buffet snack food and cheap beer and cocktails. Top night out!

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Milan falls under the category of Poorly Planned Part of Trip. Allowing ourselves just one full day here, great work organising committee. We soon learn our lesson but for now it's off to Firenze aka Florence.

Posted by harpellar 13:13 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Goodbye Dad, hello Ali

Farewells are always sad occasions

sunny 27 °C

After a huge and amazing day at Oktoberfest we wake up at 4am (a little seedy) and have to get off to the airport. Today Ali arrives from India and Dad leaves us to head back home.

It was really sad saying goodbye to Geoffro, I hope he had a great time, it was very special to get to spend this time together with him and Shayne.

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And so it's goodbye for Shayne as well as he heads off to The Netherlands before we meet up again in Rome in about 1 weeks time. Ali and I are off and running, first stop Milan.

The train trip from Munich to Verona (Italy) is something very special. Passing through beautiful storybook towns, through the Dolimite mountains, this is some truly amazing landscape, like a postcard virtually the whole way. Highly recommended train trip, especially during the day.

Posted by harpellar 14:52 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

We made it!!

Oktoberfest 2013

sunny 23 °C

After months and months of planning, we finally get to have our day at Oktoberfest, and what a day.

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To start with we choose the Hippodrom beer tent.

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We are soon joined at our table by Thomas and his Mum and Dad Monica and Freidal from Dusseldorf. Thomas can speak english but his parents can only speak bits and pieces but thanks to them we had a day to remember.

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We drank beer, we sang traditional german songs, we linked arms and swayed, we rode rides and we even danced.

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Posted by harpellar 03:16 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Just the Boys

Oktoberfest here we come

Emily leaves us in Vienna bound for Holland and we set sail for Munich. This is what we crossed the sea for, Oktoberfest 2013, here we come!

Dad enjoys flying along the Autobahn, here there is no speed limit. He managers to get our people mover up to 155 kph, still we are overtaken as if we are standing still.

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When we first arrive in Munich around 3pm we decide to take a trip out to Oktoberfest which started that day. It is short trip on the metro from our hotel and we want to get our bearings as to how to get there and also have a bit of a look to see what we're in for. When we arrive the place is packed, like the Easter show x 500 . We don't feel like waiting around to get into a beer tent so we decide to leave it until tomorrow.

The intention is to have an early night before hitting up the beer halls first thing the next morning. A quiet dinner at a local pub turns into a few sneaky and unexpected Steins with some Americans and our plans of an early start are put to an end when we all wake up feeling a little under the weather. We will have to postpone our Oktoberfest aspirations for another day.

Instead we spend the day exploring Munich.

Posted by harpellar 15:13 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Next Stop Vienna

Our trip to Vienna was terribly rushed. After arriving in the afternoon we have rest of the day and one more full day. Not at all enough time anywhere, especially somewhere like Vienna that has so much history and culture to take in.

We spend our time taking in the basic sights St Stephen's, Stephensplatz, a river cruise down the Danube, Dad and I take a sight seeing bus trip and we eat some very Viennese cuisine, Pizza and Mexican.

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Posted by harpellar 15:11 Comments (0)

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