Tag Archive | travelblog

The art of armchair travelling

One of my favourite lockdown activities to do is armchair travelling. Going around the world without leaving the comforts of my room. There are so many different ways to armchair travel and I’m sure there are many more!

Wanderlusting: I enjoy reading other people’s travel blogs about where they went, what they saw, what they ate and what they did. I have recently learnt about stave churches through one of the blogs! I read about places I have been but want to return to to see more of the country/town or that I want to go to. Similarly, I like spending some time on instagram looking at beautiful pictures of travel destinations that I want to go back to or countries that I want to visit. I’ve also added towns to certain countries onto my list after seeing some of these pictures!

Decorative hand-made turtle from Mexico

Souvenirs: When I travel, the souvenirs that I tend to gravitate towards are either jewelry (usually hand-crafted), non perishable food or home decorations that I can place in the open to remind me of the places I have been. It always puts a spring in my step when I’m wearing something that someone else has put their time, mind and creativity into making. Plus, it always reminds me of the best times that I’ve had in that country.
With food, it has to be dried, bottled and wrapped due to Australia’s strict customs. I’m always on the lookout for anything that is jarred or bottled so that I can save the container afterwards which is great as it doubles up in function and can also become a home decor piece.
Home decorations for me have been in the form of artwork from local artists or prints/postcards which I have framed. Artwork is so subjective and really comes down to personal taste and style.

Media: Reading books that are set in different cities or watching movies is another great way to armchair travel. I enjoy watching movies from other countries (not just the Hollywood ones) as different countries humor, cultural definitions or artistic creations are so different from one another and opens up the mind (just like travel!).

Language: Learning the local language is also a great way to become more ‘connected’ to the country. Not only do you find out what is happening in another part of the world, you get a sense of what is considered important in the country at the time which could be completely different to what is in yours. It can also instantly make you feel like you’re worlds away simply by listening to another language.

Home made horchata

Food: Cooking! Not being such a good cook myself, this is the last on my list. I have attempted many dishes that just don’t quite turn out like the ones in restaurants abroad. But if you fancy yourself a chef, this is a great way to explore the world right from your kitchen. It could be picking a country and dish once a month or something more encompassing such as a continent a season. Please let me know if you’ve done this (with pictures please!).

How do you armchair travel? What is your favourite armchair travelling activity? I would love to know and learn from you!

A few days in Berlin, Germany

Berlin, I’m still undecided how I feel about this city. On the one hand, you have the biggest fans who all announce that Berlin has so much to offer and there are so many things to do vs the nay sayers who downright dislike Berlin.

I guess you can’t spend time in Germany without checking out the capital after all, it holds so much history and provides a modern city where start-ups and small businesses can thrive.

Leopoldplatz local graffiti

I arrived via train at Berlin Central Station and my first thought was how bloody big the station was. I’ve never seen a 6 storey train station before! I met my sister and we got our public transport tickets and headed off to our Airbnb in the Leopoldplatz area. This was actually a very multicultural area and very family orientated area. After getting acquainted to the area, we headed off to see the East Side Gallery- murals on the wall that once divided east and west Berlin. We slowly walked almost the entire length of the wall and I really liked the political ones and thought that it was cool that it could still be displayed. We then stopped nearby for a quick dinner then headed back early.

The next day I headed out alone as my sister was unwell. I wondered downtown to take a free walking tour but arrived early so had enough time to find a bathroom. One of the things I hate about Europe is the fact that you have to pay to use the toilet everywhere! I went to one in a department store and felt completely cornered and hassled to pay whilst locals were just freely walking out.

Our walking tour took us to all the main sites, Museum Island, Gendarmenmarkt, Hitler’s bunker, Berlin Wall, Jewish Memorial, Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandanberg Gate. The city was really lively despite the gloomy weather. After the tour, I went back to the Jewish Memorial where I wanted to walk through the memorial as the floor is uneven and height of the blocks also not uniform and it’s suppose to be a very disorientating experience. Unfortunately, there were other adult tourists running and playing hide and seek amongst the memorial! I didn’t get my reflective moment as I had hoped. After the memorial, I went to the Typography of Terror which was more of a photography exhibit but I still thought the information and pictures provided were quite informative.

Berlin Cathedral

The next day we headed to the city centre and went to see the Reichstag building and Cathedral. We were just having a stroll before heading back to the Airbnb for lunch. In the afternoon, I went to the Berlin Hohenschönhausen Memorial which was formally a Stasi prison. It was just an ordinary factory/office looking building in suburbia but was actually a prison and interrogation camp. I went on a guided tour (most are former prisoners) and we were able to walk through some of the areas. It was eerie and uncomfortable. This place was left off maps so that no-one knew and psychological interrogation was widely used. Prisoners were transported in vans painted with fruits/vegetables so that no-one would suspect anything. If you are into modern history, this museum is a definite must visit. The guided tour is roughly 2 hours but I would have happily kept listening to more information for another 2 hours.

Prison cells in the Berlin Hohenschönhausen Memorial

The next day was Christmas Eve and we had predicted that many places would be closing early or already closed. First thing on our public holiday to do was iceskating! We went to Potsdamer to a rink there as we had seen it was free except for shoe hire. The rink was small but we went in anyway. Nothing like freezing cold crisp air hitting your face. We thought we’d had enough after 35 minutes and left to go into the mall for some browsing. My sister wanted to watch a movie but I was still keen on site seeing so we went off on our different activities. I went to the DDR museum which was interesting but perhaps more aimed at a younger audience. It was also packed but I think it was because it was one of the very few things open!

I had some time to spare so went to Starbucks (wouldn’t be my first choice but it was open) for a hot chocolate and people watching while I waited for my sister. Once we met up, we went to the Weihnachts ZauberChristmas market and had some gluwein and assorted pasta and cheese dishes. I love Christmas markets and the general festive vibe despite the cold.

Currywurst

On the final day in Berlin, it was Christmas Day. We took out time in the morning knowing that there wouldn’t be much open. We walked around the Hackescher Markt and then split up again for the afternoon. I went to the Stasi Museum. After having gone to the Prison, I was ready for another super museum but I was disappointed! It wasn’t as interesting- maybe if I had taken a guided tour? I did think the spyware in the 1960s were quite advanced for their time.

We met up again after our afternoon apart and headed back to the Airbnb to finish our food as we were leaving Berlin the next day.

Maybe I didn’t get enough time to see the alternative Berlin that I’ve heard so much about but maybe also this city is just not to my liking? Let me know your thoughts on Berlin- are you a fan or not and why?

Staying in Obertraun/Hallstat for a few days, Austria.

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Situated in the Austrian Alps around Hallstat lake are the towns Hallstat and Obertraun. Hallstat is the more famous of the two and is the main tourist destination mostly as a day trip. I thought however, being in the mountains might be nice and I could plan to do some outdoor activities to pass my time. How wrong was I! I stayed in Obertraun which is the more budget friendly of the two towns. There are restaurants around, a supermarket and the Obertraun Resort which is like a park/beach and has bike rentals as well.

Handy tip: local buses between Hallstat and Obertraun run about once a hour in each direction and none over lunch so take a picture of the bus timetable (I found the pamphlet so hard to read) and plan your day around the bus times.

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To say that this area of Austria is picturesque is a huge understatement. One of the main attractions outside of the Hallstat city centre is Dachstein Mountains and in particular the Five Finger viewing platform. There are a few different viewing platforms dotted along the mountains but the Five Fingers is the most popular because they are literally platforms jutting over the edge of the mountains. As I am terrified of heights, I took in the sights from a nice stable grounded area. Speaking of heights, to get up to the top of the mountain involves 2 cable car rides. Again, I found them terrifying.

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It is worth the few minutes of sheer terror in the cable cars though to get views like this! I as wondering why people were going into the cable cars with huge backpacks and thought they were going camping but alas, they were actually parachuters. You’re high up so make sure sunscreen and a hat is brought as well as water. I didn’t do all the different viewing platforms but bring lunch and you could easily spend almost 5 hours up here. Also up here are the Dachstein Ice and Mammut Caves. You can buy a combined ticket for all three things. It would be a tiring day but great for the kids in my opinion. Bring lunch!

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Hallstat is a lot bigger than I thought it was. Salt stores and cafes make the bulk of the so called ‘small town’. It’s easily crossed in about 20 minutes. There is a salt mine across the road from Hallstat (so I guess it’s still in Hallstat) that I quite enjoyed as I had never done anything like it before and takes approximately 2 hours to go up and down and do a guided tour.

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I arrived here using CK shuttle (from Cesky Krumlov) but Hallstat and Obertraun each have their own train station and can be used to travel to and from Vienna or Salzburg. Interestingly, Hallstat train station is situated on the otherside of the river from Hallstat town (weird!) and any trains you do catch out to Salzburg or Vienna will require a train change at Attnang-Puchheim station. It’s the last stop so you won’t miss it!

Depending on what you want to do, a day trip or a few days here would work. There is one thing in common in coming here though and it’s to enjoy the view.

-S.

Fairytale town: Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

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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.

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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.
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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?

-S.

Reflections of Prague

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I have officially left Prague and am now in the South Bohemian region of the Czech Republic. So I thought it would be nice to reflect what I had learnt in Prague and the feels that I got whilst there. I’m not the one to be giving a history lesson but if you don’t know the history I can give you a brief run down. Formally known as Czechoslovakia, it was one of the most strongest European countries economically up until World War II where it was taken over by Nazi Germany. Hundreds of thousands of Czechoslovakian citizens and their jewish populations were sent to concentration camps, interrogated in prisons and/or were forced labourers. It wasn’t until 1945 before Soviet and American armies arrived to liberate the country from German rule and is now known as the Spring Uprising. The country was then a communist state up until 1989 when the Velvet Revolution occurred, where the country became a democracy peacefully in that year. History lesson over.

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The 2 images above are of the John Lesson Wall, which is located in Lesser Town just off the Charles bridge. This wall was like your average everyday other wall until 1988 when the youngsters decided that they weren’t happy with the communist country and how it was being run. Apparently, authorities had tried cleaning the wall only to have it become graffiti-ed over again and again with world loving messages. Today, it is a vibrant addition to the city and is changing everyday judging from the people drawing with pen on the wall. I felt tears welling up in my eyes as I stood there looking at the wall. This is the sign of unhappy citizens in a country who wanted to be heard and change their country for the better (I hope). A country that had gone through so much from being one of the strongest countries in Europe to one whose Government was exiled during World War II. It gives me hope! So much so, it was making me teary.

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This is a picture of the Zizkov TV Tower aka one of the world’s ugliest towers, which was built by the Nazi German’s to block radio signals from the east. I stayed close to this tower so got to see it lit up at night (Czech flag colours). War bunkers and communist-styled buildings dot this city. Adding something to the Gothic, baroque and cubic architecture. To me, it’s a blend of their history into the modern day Czech Republic and a reminder of their past so evidently everywhere. It makes me want to play a lament to the country and I hope they see additional good years to come.

-S.

Live from Prague: Food

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Food!

I’m pretty bad at taking pictures of food. Once the plate hits the table, I’ve already reached for cutlery and cannot stand friends who prohibit you from eating until after they get their snaps. Part of a culture is their food so what better way to experience it than to eat it. If you’ve read anything about Czech cuisine, you will hear that it is heavy. This is correct. The traditional Czech foods involve some hearty meats served with dumplings. This is not to be confused with Asian dumplings, Czech dumplings are made from flour (can be anything from potato, what or buckwheat) which is then boiled and then sliced up and served with the hearty meat. I tried the beef goulash after getting over my sickness, delicious. No picture here as I had already eaten it before I thought about taking the picture.

First picture above. Smazeny syr aka fried cheese. This particular one was camembert cheese served with potatoes and cranberry sauce. Can I just say that this is the best thing ever invented after sliced bread? A friend had told me to go and try this and it was actually quite hard to find in the Old Town. It was heavy but the cranberry sauce was a nice addition and I almost finished it minus the potatoes. Tip of the day, always walk to surrounding streets of touristy areas to find the best deals. I will definitely try and hunt for more tonight!

Last picture is Trdelnik. Now I have eaten this back home in Aus at a Hungarian patisserie so was confused when I arrived here and found these everywhere. After alittle research (googling), turns out it’s just generally Slovak which each country claiming it as their own but it actually originated from the Hungarian-speaking Romanian town Szeklerland. It’s made from dough that’s rolled into a thin log and then spun around a pin. It’s covered in sugar and then roasted until golden brown. There are variations to how it’s garnished, sometimes just sugar on the outside, you can also have nuts and the option of nutella on the inside. Personally, I would go without nutella as it’s already quite sweet from the sugar. Perfect afternoon snack as you people watch.

What are some of your favourite Czech foods? Let me know!

-S.

Accommodation Choices

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Obviously when you’re travelling, you need a place to stay but aside from the hotel, where else can you stay and save?

One of my favourite websites to use for accommodation bookings is bookings.com. It’s easy to use, you just plug in your dates of travel, number of guests and town and hit search. It brings up a whole list of hotels/hostels/B&Bs so you can compare prices, reviews from other people and compare features between each place. Things I keep an eye out for are air conditioning and wifi as not all places have these included in the price or at all. I also like to book rooms that have $0 cancellation costs incase you find a better place to stay or want to change your dates. I also really like the review feature which lets you browse through to see what other people’s experiences were like and make sure you leave your own for the next travellers.

If these prices are still too expensive or I want a place with a kitchen to stay at, I will look at Airbnb. You get to pick whether you want a whole apartment to yourself or a private room within someone else’s home. The benefit of this is a more personalised type of accommodation and someone to ask questions to about local things. The downside is not having the chance to stay around other guests (although some places do rent out all their rooms so you can expect to bump into someone else) or have the safety back-up of a “hotel or hostel corporation” like structure to smooth out any issues right away (although AirBnB does have legal say in things to protect hosts). Just another tip, a service fee is involved in each booking that goes straight to AirBnB and you don’t get this back if you need to cancel. I’ve used Airbnb before and will be giving it some more goes but it’s very dependent on individual experiences both with the place and with the hosts so goodluck!

Another option is to use couchsurfing. This isn’t just free accommodation (but yay free) but more of a community exchange. For the free stay, you should at least make a meal for or take your host/s out for a meal to say thanks. On the couchsurfing website, there are reviews of both hosts and guests so have a look through this thoroughly as not so good things have happened. You can message past guests to ask about the host. I haven’t used couchsurfing yet but maybe I will soon.

Hope I’ve given you an insight of my booking ways. If you wish to leave a comment, let me know what you think and what sites you use.

-S.

My first Christmas alone in Paris, France

Last year I was in Paris hunting for my future french husband for a personal holiday alone and spent Christmas without family members for the first time in my life. Whilst we don’t celebrate Christmas, it has always been family time to me and the only time of the year where we eat ham and […]

Stockholm Metro stations in pictures

Stockholm Metro I had previously written about the metro aka world’s longest art gallery here but here are some more pictures.