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?
Travelling in the south of France is easier if you hire a car but for those who prefer not to, a tour will get you around. I decided to join Provence Reservation for their All Provence in one day tour to get a snapshot of the area and because of my time limit. I was promptly picked up in the morning from the Avignon Tourist Office and then whisked away to our first stop: The Lavender Museum. The museum is run by the Lincele family who have a ‘real’ lavender farm in Vaucluse high up in the mountains. This museum is geared towards visitors and included a short film about how lavender oils are extracted, museum featuring antique distilling equipment and a store selling their products. I thought it was a great museum that was easy to navigate and was informative.
Our first town was Gordes for their Tuesday markets. As you may have already guessed, these small towns thrive on tourism (as well as farming) but are not packed with tourists. There were cheese stalls, clothes stalls, nougat stores and of course soap. This market was excellent for those looking for gifts or some nibbles. Go behind the buildings following down-hill paths to get views of the surrounding area.
Next stop, the town of Roussillion perched on a red rock. The redness comes about due to the presence of ocre in the surrounding lands is quite a contrast from Gordes which is approximately a 15 minute drive away. One major street in the city will take you up to the church and sweeping panoramic views of the surrounding area.
Our last town was Les Baux de Provence which was my favourite town. This town felt bigger than Gordes and Roussillon and is perched on a white rock. There is a castle remain at the very top however, due to time constraints, I didn’t get to visit it. There were many stores and cafes around on every winding street and only one entrance and exit to the town so, impossible to get lost. There were more options here in terms of gifts as well (soap, Provence specialty foods, jewellery and ceramics).
Our last stop of the day was the old roman aqueduct Pont du Gard. This three tier bridge was beautiful and paths on either side allow every angle of this bridge imaginable. Level 1 is a pedestrian bridge and allows you to cross to the other side. There are parking lots on both sides of the bridge. Can you believe this bridge use to be open to cars?!
This 10-hour day trip was worth the money as it included entry into the Lavender Museum plus audio guides and into the Pont du Gard site. You need some sturdy shoes as these towns existing ontop of rock formations are of course, rocky and include a lot of uphill and downhill walking. These towns are gems in the Provence region and I would highly recommend a tour if you’re not driving. Time wise, we spent about 1 hour in each town, it’s enough to see everything but not loiter and I would have really liked to have seen the castle ruins in Les Baux. There is always next time!
Do you have any recommendations for other towns in Provence? What did you like about them?
Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, is a 1 hour train ride from Vienna. The distance between these two capital cities is suppose to be THE shortest distance in the world but I have read contradicting evidence so I don’t believe it. The close situation of these cities means a great day trip from Vienna. Take bus X13 or 93 to get closer to the Old Town. If you buy your Bratislava ticket from Vienna, the ticket includes free public transport usage in Bratislava.
The Old Town can be easily covered in a day plus maybe a museum as well. Taking a “hike” up to the castle grounds will reward you with sweeping views over the Old Town, Danube River and the ‘burbs (suburbs).
It’s a small Old Town but many different buildings to feast your eyes upon. There are plenty of outdoor cafes, cute stores and amazing historical buildings although some are time-worn.
Is Cesky Krumlov worth visiting? I would say the answer is yes.
Cesky Krumlov is in the South Bohemia region of the Czech Republic and is around a 2.5hr bus ride from Prague. Alot of people do this as a day trip but I’m here to tell you no! Stay at least one night. It’s a VERY touristic town and I get the feeling that the town thrives off that. It’s simply an Old Town but it will charm your socks off. It’s a very pretty town that will make almost every picture you take instagramable.
I arrived in Cesky Krumlov by local bus from Ceske Budejovice and was so anxious about not knowing where to get off! I made it, 40 mins later with the ride only costing about $2-3 aud. I stayed just outside the main town area but CK is small so you can easily walk everywhere. The town is a scene from a fairytale surrounded by rolling green hills. I did a free walking tour ( free Wiseman’s walking tour ) later that afternoon. The free tour is a great introduction to the town’s layout and also the town’s history. I think it was the best place for town information and also showed us all the sights and perfect town viewing locations. Some of the buildings date back to the 18th century and are still standing today. How did they even built the castle so high?! Of course, you need to hear about the walking ghosts and all the cursing that went around back then. The main attraction in town is the Castle which will give you a sweeping views of the town.
The Vltava river snacks through CK and it is no surprise that there are a number of rafting companies. The place I was staying at recommended Malecek which I think also had some of the better prices around. You can choose which route you want to take that have an approximate duration time. I had wanted to do the 3-4 hour route but as it was mid afternoon already, the 1-2 hour route was the one to pick instead. The river isn’t deep so if you manage to not make a weir in the upright position, it’ll be ok. You need a minimum of 2 people for a raft which is recommended over a canoe for those of us who are novices as it’s more stable. The only capsizes I saw were from canoes. It was so tranquil on the water gliding past forest. The ‘stops’ are well marked so you can just pull over on the bank At the end point of the 1-2hr route, there was even a bar so we treated ourselved to some local beer afterwards. The rafting company brings you back into town from the stopping points.
I know there are many options to day do trips from Prague but CK is a great option to just revel in and enjoy the scenery. During the day, it is filled with tourists and tour groups so it’s nice to wonder early morning or evening for some more peace.
How did you like the town? Is there anything else that you would recommend doing?
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