Browsing Category

Europe

Barcelona Europe Reviews Spain Tours

Bouncing Around Barcelona – The bike tour with a difference

August 4, 2017

Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia and the second most populous municipality in Spain, has many claims to fame – a world-renowned football team, impressive tourism figures and weather to make most jealous – but there’s something special about this incredible city that most people aren’t aware of.

It plays host to one of the best tour guides around!

Kris, the owner-operator of Bounce Around Barcelona is one of the most energetic, vivacious guides you could ever hope to meet.  He’s hard-case and finds the perfect balance between professionally and approachability.

With the option of private and group tours around the city, guests can get around either by foot or on Kris’ funky old-school bikes.  We figured the bikes would allow us to cover more ground so it was an easy choice for us.  Fortunately the city is incredibly well laid out for cyclists, being largely flat and home to countless cycle lanes.

Before departing, Kris sat with us to determine the key spots we wanted to visit, orientated us on the map and promised to take us to some of the local hideaways.  Our tour was custom designed for us, based on what we hadn’t managed to see yet.  In the end, it covered off all of Barcelona’s must-see spots and, as promised, delivered lots of gems that we’d never had discovered by ourselves.

Our tour really did have it all…

Food?  Check

Architecture?  Double check!

Natural beauty?  You bet.

Throughout our tour, Kris shared a wealth of information about Barcelona, the Catalan region as a whole and Spain itself.  I have no idea how he manages to retain the depth of knowledge that he has but there’s no doubt in my mind that Kris was absolutely born to do this job.

As much as we’d love to share our map and all of the top-spots Bounce Around Barcelona showed us, there’s no better way to see Barcelona than on one of their tours.  We were given the opportunity to skip over a couple of the locations that we’d already passed through but once we realised how much better it was seeing everything through Kris’ eyes we quickly asked for those spots to be added back in.  We didn’t have the back-story when we visited independently nor an understanding of the history but Kris of course changed that.

They have one motto and it’s something Bounce Around clearly live to their core – “Come as a guest, leave as a friend”.

Don’t take our word for it though – I dare you to visit Kris and his team and walk away with anything but the more positive things to say.

We’d bounce around practically anywhere with Kris!


Love Barcelona as much as us?  Pin this post!

Discover the best tour in Barcelona, Spain. Bounce Around Barcelona will plan an amazing itinerary and show you the best tourist sites in the city. From Gaudi to the best secret bar, this tour covers off all the highlights and then some!Discover the best tour in Barcelona, Spain. Bounce Around Barcelona will plan an amazing itinerary and show you the best tourist sites in the city. From Gaudi to the best secret bar, this tour covers off all the highlights and then some!

I know this post sounds unbelievably gushy but we really were blown away by Kris’ zest for life and obvious passion for what he does.  To date we’ve only met one other guide that left us feeling like we walked away more as friends than guests (Bessi, we’re talking to you!) and we figure, you’ve really got to celebrate the good guys.

We were invited to put Bounce Around Barcelona through their paces and as always, all thoughts are our own.

Destinations Europe Scotland Tours United Kingdom

Checking Out Scotland’s Highlights with Highland Explorer Tours

July 31, 2017

With its rolling green hills, towering Highlands, fantastic people and intriguing history, Scotland is both as gorgeous as it is accessible.

Before visiting, we’d heard great things about Edinburg so we knew it was where we wanted to base ourselves.  With that said, nobody comes to Scotland with dreams of its cities – lochs, crags and munros – the countryside’s where it’s at!

With a few potential highlights in mind, we locked in two action packed day trips around this beautiful country – one longer day headed up to the infamous Loch Ness and another to Stirling Castle.

Loch Ness Explorer

Nessie – real or imaginary?  Regardless of your stance, you’ve gotta take a look for yourself!

After years of hearing about Loch Ness and Nessie, the monster living in its depths, a visit to the loch was top of my Scottish wish-list and though it was a big day on the coach, it was absolutely worthwhile.

Though it was Loch Ness that originally drew us to this itinerary it ended up being only a small part of the day’s highlights!  We admired the beauty of Glencoe, loved exploring the small town of Fort Augustus (and getting down on the best fish and chips), laughed ourselves silly on the loch cruise and fell in love with Pitlochry – one of the most photogenic towns we’ve ever visited.

Loch Lomond, Stirling Castle & the Kelpies

After a busy day on the bus we were excited to hit the road in a more relaxed nature and this day trip ticked exactly that boxl  Lots of real Scottish highlights without endless hours on a coach?  Sign us up!

We started with a visit to The Kelpies – 30 meters of towering steel, crafted to create gorgeous horses – designed by Andy Scott.  These statues stand in recognition of the key role that horses have played throughout Scotland and as a nod to the mythical kepie.  Known for their gorgeous looks and malevolent spirit, these creatures are as beautiful as they are deadly.

The statues are fantastic and even more gorgeous at night when they’re lit up – regardless of how you get out there, it’s worth the short trip out of Edinburgh.

From there we continued onto Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park where we wandered along a quiet forrest path.  The walk didn’t end up being the highlight of the trip as it wasn’t quite as long as I was expecting but was beautiful all the same.

After a great wee lunch stop we continued onto Stirling Castle which really did end up being a surprising highlight of the trip.  Though we appreciate a good castle we were really taken by the beauty and history of this one in particular – I think we may have a new favourite!

Why Highland Explorer Tours?

When we first reached out we were taken by the professional manner in which the booking team replied.  We were pretty unsure as to which tour(s) we wanted to attend and they were happy to give us plenty of information without once putting the pressure on – that’s exactly what we look for in a tour company.

Would we recommend touring Scotland?

We sure would! 

Edinburgh is gorgeous (just look at it) but the real Scotland lies outside of the city.

Both of our tour guides were chocka-block full of knowledge and delivered their tours with a great sense of fun.  The included stops were interesting and allowed us enough time to enjoy each one of them without having to race to the next destination.  We also loved that there were options available to ‘upgrade’ the tours but there was no pressure to do so – a real bonus for people travelling on a budget.

Though we only had a short time in the country, we left with a newfound appreciation for not only Scotland’s natural beauty but of it’s history and the hard-case people that call this beautiful place home.


Why not help us spread the word about this fabulous two day-trips?  Pin your favourite image to Pinterest!

Looking for tours in Scotland?  Leaving from Edinburgh, join us as we share our two day itinerary to Glencoe, Stirling Castle, Loch Ness, The Kelpies, Trossachs National Park and much more!Looking for tours in Scotland?  Leaving from Edinburgh, join us as we share our two day itinerary to Glencoe, Stirling Castle, Loch Ness, The Kelpies, Trossachs National Park and much more!

Thank you to Highland Explorer Tours for showing us the beautiful Scottish countryside – we had a great time!  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Annecy Destinations Europe France

Annecy – The Reason We’ve Fallen in Love with South-Eastern France!

July 21, 2017

Located in South-Eastern France, Annecy seeks to be a marvellous secret that people-in-the-know carefully guard for themselves.

Less than an hour from Geneva, Switzerland, Annecy makes a fantastic day trip or weekend away. 

Built around an ice-blue coloured lake, lined by the towering French Alps, there are few places we’ve visited as breathtakingly beautiful as this little town.  Add into the mix a stunning old-town and a range of exciting activities just waiting for you and you’re onto a winner by any account.

Things to See and Do in Annecy

Soak Up Lake Annecy

The focal point of the own, Lake Annecy is certainly one of its highlights.  Whether you take a dip, hire a paddle boat, join a lake cruise or just wander around enjoying the scenery, the lake is a beautiful place to be.

If you have more time, bikes are also available for hire and doing so makes for a fantastic day, so we were told.

Explore the Old-Town

With its beautiful canals (there’s a reason it’s known as the Venice of France), overflowing flower planters and stunning classic French buildings, the old town will welcome you to while away the hours.  Keep your eyes peeled for Anncey’s old church that sits abridging two canals – it’s gorgeous and a perfect photo op.

Whilst you’re wandering, be sure to grab an icecream to cool down.  I’m not sure why old town Annecy has so many gelato shops but I wouldn’t for a second complain!  Do as we did and enjoy a tasty treat in the mid-afternoon sun.

Take to the Sky

Whether you’re looking for a massive adrenaline rush or something a bit more sedate, Annecy provides the perfect backdrop for your adventure.  Both skydiving and paragliding is on offer in the area and though we didn’t have time to head out, we saw parachuters coming down and couldn’t help but look on longingly!

Check Out Gorges Du Fier

Just 10 kilometres out of town, Gorge du Fier welcomes visitors looking to immerse themselves in nature.  With a beautiful walking track that snakes throughout the gorge, it’s a great place to unwind and see a different side of the French Alps.

Getting From Geneva to Annecy

With the town sitting approximately 45 minutes from Geneva, visitors are spoilt for choice in regards to transport options.  Some of course are better than others though so consider all your options before deciding upon one.

We elected to take the FlixBus there and used the ride-sharing site, BlaBla Car on the way back.

BlaBla Car

Jumping onboard with the new sharing culture, we decided to try BlaBla car and came away with nothing but positive things to say.  The premise is simple – people make journeys everyday with empty seats in their cars.  BlaBla cars connects those with space to spare with people seeking a ride.  It’s kind of like a safe, pre-planned hitchhiking website. 

Online you’re able to check the reviews left from previous BlaBla’s to determine if you’re happy to ride with that driver and when you do decide on one, the funds are held until you’ve been picked up at the agreed time and place and delivered safely to your final destination. 

Not only was our BlaBla Car ride cheaper than any of the other options, it got us home faster (in about 40 minutes) and offered more time options.

Drive Yourselves

We looked into this option briefly as we do love the flexibility that having a rental car offers.  It didn’t take long to rule this out though thanks to the sky-high prices of rental cars in Switzerland.  If you’re bringing a rental in from elsewhere or have your own car then driving to Annecy would be a convenient option but not one worth pursuing just for the sake of this trip.

Bus

FlixBus is a bus company found throughout much of Europe.  They offer reasonably priced tickets and a reliable service and for this reason, they’re one of our favourite modes of transport on the continent.  The journey through FlixBus takes approximately 50 minutes.

Shuttle

Shuttle buses run frequently between Geneva airport and Annecy but due to the number of stops they make, they can take substantially more time than the FlixBus – depending on the number of stops your timetabled service will make, it could take upwards of two hours to complete the journey.

Train

Though Geneva is well connected by rail, there is not a direct service between the two locations.  This means that although it is possible to train, you’ll end up detouring via a different centre to do so.  The high cost of this service and additional travel time clearly made it a no-go for us.

How Long Do I Need in Annecy?

This, of course, depends on just how much you want to do there. 

We had planned on spending a night or two in Annecy but due to accommodation prices skyrocketing, we made the decision to base ourselves in Geneva and make a day trip across the border.  We arrived into town at midday and left again at 5.30pm – though we could have happily stayed on in the city, we’d enjoyed our afternoon and felt OK about leaving.

I wouldn’t say we were excited to move on though – Annecy’s the kind of place it would be all too easy to visit and just stay put!

If you have more time than us, we’d definitely suggest booking a few nights in.  The town’s relatively small but there’s a great deal to do in the area.  Alternatively, just relax, eat your fill and enjoy the local shops – whatever you choose, it won’t be a challenge to fill your time there.

We had an amazing visit to this lovely little French town.  It took us entirely by surprise and certainly left us wanting more of France.

Without doubt, we’ll be back to this part of the world!


What to see and do in Annecy, the most beautiful town in France! With a stunning lake and the French Alps in the background, it's a must-see of your vacation. This guide includes things to do, transport and itinerary information.

Activities Adventure Chernobyl Destinations Ukraine

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone – 10 incredible photos to inspire your visit

July 17, 2017

On April 26th, 1986, the world came to know about a small town in Ukraine.

Chernobyl.

Chernobyl is no longer known as a town but as the location of the largest nuclear power plant accident in history.  Late night testing-gone-wrong decimated the area, causing significant long-term health effects for residents and costing billions to ‘remedy’.

Visiting the site that released 400 times the radiation of Hiroshima bomb may seem like an odd vacation choice but for the past five or so years, adventurous tourists have been able to do exactly that.

A visit to the Chernobyl exclusion zone is to literally take a step back in time to 1986.  Toys are left strewn on the floor, as are handwritten notes and Soviet newspaper articles.  This is a glimpse into not only a bygone era but one behind a once-iron curtain.

We will be following up with information regarding our visit but before we do, we wanted to share a few photographs to give you an idea as to what awaits those who visit this incredible site.

Without doubt, a visit to this site is not for everyone.  The history there and the opportunity to explore an abandoned area whilst gaining such an insight into the past was too hard for us to resist though.

Does a visit to Chernobyl interest you?


If you are considering a trip to Ukraine be sure to pin this post!

The site of the world's worst nuclear power plant accident may seem like a strange choice for tourists but it provides an unprecedented glimpse into Soviet life in 1986.  These photos will inspire you to plan your own visit to the Chernobyl exclusion zone in the Ukraine.The site of the world's worst nuclear power plant accident may seem like a strange choice for tourists but it provides an unprecedented glimpse into Soviet life in 1986.  These photos will inspire you to plan your own visit to the Chernobyl exclusion zone in the Ukraine.The site of the world's worst nuclear power plant accident may seem like a strange choice for tourists but it provides an unprecedented glimpse into Soviet life in 1986. These photos will inspire you to plan your own visit to the Chernobyl exclusion zone in the Ukraine.

We were taken into the Chernobyl exclusion zone by Go2Chernobyl – tours leave from Kiev daily.

Activities France Paris Reviews theme park

Disneyland Paris & Walt Disney Studios Park – A Must See in France?

July 3, 2017

The one brand in the world that really needs no introduction.

Disney.

The happiest place on earth.  Where dreams come true.  Where fantasies come to life and where big kids become small again.

As a child it was always a family dream to one day visit Disneyland and when it did eventually happen, I remember it being an absolute bucket-list moment for us all.

I’ve since gone on to visit Disneyland in California a number of times, finding each visit as magical as the last.

It’s unsurprising then, that when we booked our dates in for Paris, a visit to Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios Park was top of my to-do list!

With high expectations, we set off on the train (an incredibly easy way to get to the parks) to see if our Parisian Disney dreams could live up to our past experiences.

Disney – A Step Above

Disney set the benchmark for theme parks the world over – they consider things other parks wouldn’t dream of.

Worried your children might see another Mickey floating around the park?  Don’t be – there’s only ever one of each character out on duty at a time (and they’ll never talk for fear of voices sounding different or ruining the magic).

Have you ever wondered just how they make Main Street look so long (and the iconic castle centre-pieces so far away)?  Forced perspective!  As you move further down Main Street, the shops become wider making everything appear further away than it really is.

As you walk from area to area, keep your ear to the ground.  In doing so, you’ll notice subtle sound-effects that change to reflect the theming of that part of the park.

They really do think of everything!

Two Parks – One Pass

Between Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios Park guests are able to enjoy the majority of classic Disney favourites and a number of new rides and though you can pick just the one park and stick to it, we always recommend the Park Hopper tickets.  They give you maximum flexibility to come and go as you choose.  Bounce around to avoid the lines and make the most of your favourite rides!

The Rides You Can’t Miss

A perennial Disney favourite, Space Mountain at Disneyland Paris (known as Starwars Hyper Space Mountain) is the fastest of all five incarnations (46mph in just two seconds!) and it’s also the only one to go upside-down.  Unfortunately it was closed for our visit but we love the original and can only imagine how awesome this version would be!

If you’re after a rollercoaster style ride that builds up to an amazing ending, be sure to check out Big Thunder Mountain.  It starts off fairly sedately but the last blat is incredible – I won’t ruin the surprise, just make sure you check it out for yourself.

Keen for another coaster?  Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril is a bit rickety but it absolutely makes sense given the theme of the ride.  The queuing area is especially well appointed and the ride itself excerpts some fairly major g-forces on riders (with a surprise towards the end!)

Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith was the ride I was most excited to try out at Walt Disney Studios Park.  The take off was incredible but I must admit that I found the rest of the ride a bit uncomfortable – probably a combination of the number of earrings I wear (they don’t go well with roller coasters) and the fact that we’ve been spoilt with more modern coasters.  The music was well-matched though and as a dark ride, it’s a great introduction for those wanting to ride a bigger coaster without seeing what’s in front of them.

Though we ran out of time to jump on, we’ve also been told by friends that Crush’s Coaster is great fun.  This spinning, wild-mouse coaster is suited to the whole family and would make a great addition to your day if you have the time.

… and saving the best to last, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was our absolute favourite ride between the two parks.  Like the original, it’s impeccably themed and run by cast members that never once break character.  The ride itself features a number of significant drops – enough to bring on the butterflies in your tummy but not so much so that it’ll put people off – it’s a balance that can be hard to find but is done perfectly on the Tower of Terror.

It must be said too – let’s all cross our fingers that one day Splash Mountain is added to Disneyland Paris.  What a ride!

Make Your Day Even More Magical – Practical Tips

It’s practically impossible to have a bad day at Disney but there are a few things you can do to improve your experience.

It’s All in the Planning…

Unfortunately even Disney can’t work real magic and this does mean that from time to time you’ll find rides out of commission.  They post the expected ride closures ahead of time, allowing guests to thoughtfully plan any potential visits.

Pro tip:  Check the opening times, expected ride closures and any special events for the day of your visit on the Disneyland Paris calendar.

The Fast Pass – Your ‘Golden Ticket’ to Disney

Though we visited on a Monday just before the school holidays in the hopes of finding the parks relatively quiet, it wasn’t to be.  With rides ranging from a 45 minute wait time up to 1.5 hours or so, the Fast Pass would normally save the day in helping to get guests through lines (without the headache of actually having to wait in line).  The concept is fairly simple – when you first enter the parks, make a beeline for the ride that you’d most like to ride, scan your ticket and pick up your Fast Pass.  This fabulous little ticket will, for-all intents and purposes, hold your space in the line at a certain point in the day whilst you head off and enjoy other attractions.  Simply return within the given 30 minute window and jump yourself to the front of the queue via the Fast Track entrance.  

Unfortunately for us, the day we visited ended up being so busy that all of the Fast Pass tickets were snapped up early and we only managed to get our hands on one each.  There’s a limited number of passes up for grabs each day – after all, if everyone in the park could take one for every ride, nobody would get ahead!  This is great in the sense that everyone has a fair shot at jumping to line (unlike in some other parks, like Six Flags Magic Mountain and Thorpe Park, where guests with deep pockets can buy their way to the front time and time again) but it does mean that you’ll struggle to benefit from this place-saving technology on particularly crowded days.

Let’s face it though, you’re at Disneyland – there are much worse places to be standing in line!

Minimising Your Wait Time

Whilst in the parks, try to pick up as many Fast Passes as you can.   Failing that though, use the following tips to try to avoid the lines as much as possible:

  • Upon entering Disneyland Paris, turn right first towards Discoveryland.  The majority of Disney-goers head to Frontierland (the first zone on the left after Main Street) so by starting at the other end of the park, you’ll avoid many of the larger lines off the bat.
  • Consider the hours of operation.  Disneyland Paris is open a fair bit longer each day than Walt Disney Studios Park and as it’s the experience that most visitors are there for first and foremost, it makes sense to pop across to the Studios first.  Not only will the lines likely be shorter there first thing in the morning but you’ll be guaranteed to tick off your must-see rides, leaving the rest of the day/evening to explore Disney.
  • Be smart about lunchtime.  Most visitors to the parks dine between midday and two – not only will the lines at the food outlets be longer then but the lines for the rides will be shorter.  If you’re able to, plan in either an early or late lunch and make the most of the quieter periods around the parks.  Alternatively, if your tummy is grumbling, you may like to consider heading to Disney Village where you’ll find fewer visitors.  We speak from experience when we say it’s probably worth walking another 5 minutes to save spending 20 in another line – the food cues certainly aren’t as entertaining as the ride ones!
  • Make the most of parade times.  Queues are generally shorter then as most of the guests will be enjoying the paradise as it snakes its way through the park so it’s a great time to hit the rides.
  • Catch the train around the park but do so from Frontierland, Discoveryland or Frontierland.  You’ll find Main Street to be the busiest station in the park.
  • Mums and Dads, don’t wait twice!  If you’re travelling with a little one that’s too small to ride, you can avail the ‘baby switch’ policy – just ask a cast member for information.
  • Splurge and have the parks to yourself.  If you choose to stay onsite at one of the Disney hotels, you’ll be allowed into the parks before and after everyone else, plus you’ll have the added bonus of being able to return to your hotel to relax when things get busy (and then be able to pop back across when the lines die down).

Regardless of the park you step foot into, Disney really do a magical  job of their theming and in creating a truly immersive experience for the whole family and their Paris parks are no exception.

Though the parks are smaller than their American counterparts, they’re a great introduction to the world of Disney!

If you’re visiting France, be sure to allow yourself time to visit Disney.  After all, it’s the happiest place on earth and who’s not looking for that?


Off to Disney or know someone that is?  Pin this post to return to these park tips!

Disneyland Paris should be top of your bucket list itinerary whilst on vacation in France. This theme park has amazing rides, great restaurants, incredible theming and the general magic you'd expect from Disney.  Find out how to maximise your time at the park whilst having the best holiday fun!Disneyland Paris should be top of your bucket list itinerary whilst on vacation in France. This theme park has amazing rides, great restaurants, incredible theming and the general magic you'd expect from Disney.  Find out how to maximise your time at the park whilst having the best holiday fun!

Thank you to Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios Park for providing us with a one day park hopper pass for the purpose of this review.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Europe France Paris

Parisians: Is What They Say About Them True?

June 27, 2017

Parisians have quite the reputation around the world and sure enough, when we booked our flight to France, the warnings started coming in…

Don’t let them think you’re from the UK – be sure to tell them you’re Kiwis.

Start with as much French as you can – they won’t like if it you speak in English.

Could the French really be as closed-off as we’d been lead to believe?

With our bags packed and my basic-high-school-level French almost certainly about to let me down, we set out to find out.

Our first interactions with locals came as soon as we left the airport.  Straight off an early morning flight and look anything but fresh, we found our way onto the train and started studying the map above the door to figure out how many stations would pass before we were to get off.

Imagine our surprise when two ladies jumped straight into our conversation to help us.  Not only were they keen to share information with us but they suggested we follow them off the train as we’d be sharing the same stop.

Where was this Parisian attitude we’d heard so much about?

Surely it was on the way – we’d just struck it lucky?

Throughout the day we happily meandered through Paris, making purchases in shops and navigating the metro without any worries but before it was time to head to a specific spot for a booking we’d made.  Needing to be in a certain place, at a certain time, in a city we’re unfamiliar with whilst speaking another language?  Surely a recipe for disaster, right?

Wrong!

Lost and looking for the metro, we asked two burly policemen to point us in the right direction and before we knew it they were complimenting me on my French (which of course couldn’t be further from the truth) and chatting to us about where we were from.

Maybe it was that we led with French but a simple Excusez-moi, bonjour was all it took.

Headed in the right direction, we found our way to the home of Jean Yves to learn how to whip up a batch of world-class macarons.  Jean Yves opens his kitchen to locals and travellers alike, teaching them the tricks of the trade and who better to learn from than the winner of Masterchef France?!

Throughout our visit, Jean Yves was patient, kind and very generous with his knowledge – everything you’d hope for but potentially not what we’d been told to expect of a Parisian.

By now, we were beginning to think we’d got it all wrong about the French and for the remainder of the trip, that’s exactly what we found to be the case.

Our encounters were, for the most part, very welcoming and we experienced no shortage of locals willing to converse with us in English… to the point where I found myself almost a little disappointed not to practice my French more!

The icing on the cake though?

As we approached the Eiffel Tower on a sunny summer’s day we realised we wouldn’t last long outside without our trusty sunscreen – unfortunately though, we’d left it back in Abu Dhabi and had struggled to find any earlier in the day.  We made one last-ditch effort to track some down and approached a vendor to see if he had any available for purchase.

Though he didn’t, you can imagine our surprise when he pulled two tubes out from behind the counter, offering up both face and body cream at absolutely no charge.  No he couldn’t sell us any but he was more than happy to ensure we were taken care of.

I don’t think I’ve been that well looked after anywhere in the world!

Of course we came across people that were less than pleasant but that’s life.  You’ll always encounter people having bad days or those that would rather keep to themselves than help – it’s certainly not something specific to Paris.

I assume this stereotype must be founded on the back of genuine experience but we personally found it to be anything but the case!

Though the French we encountered were incredibly helpful, it’s always nice to try your hand at the local language whilst travelling.  Not only do they appreciate it but it’s all a part of the experience.

The following basic phrases should get you started on your trip to Paris, but remember, if you do your best and approach your interactions with the right attitude, the Parisians really will look after you!

French 101:

Hello/Good day – Bonjour

Good evening – Bonsoir

How are you? (How’s it going?) – Comment ça va?

Things are going well – Ça va bien

My name is SarahJe m’appelle Sarah

And you? – Et Tu?

Please – S’il vous plait

Thank you – Merci

Thank you very much – Merci beaucoup

Excuse me – Excusez-moi

Sorry – Pardon

In English? – En anglais? Or even better, en anglais s’il vous plait?

Do you speak English? – Parlez vous anglais?

Goodbye – Au revoir

With some basic French under your belt and a great big smile, we really do hope you’ll have the same experience that we did in Paris.

Though it was a city that wasn’t top of either of our European wish-lists, we came away having had a ball in the City of Love and have a completely new appreciation for the French.

Isn’t it fabulous when expectations are blown out of the water?


Have you visited Paris?  If so, what was your experience of interacting with the French?  We’d love to hear from you!

Want to let others know how accommodating and patient the French can be?  Pin this post!

We were warned about Parisians before we even flew into France - is what they say about them true though? Find out our experience here...

Are you looking for an amazing place to stay whilst you visit Paris?  

We absolutely fell in love with Adèle & Jules, finding the staff to be the epitome of the welcoming Parisians we met elsewhere.  We couldn’t recommend them enough!

If your budget won’t quite stretch to that, Le Village Hostel is a comfortable option in an energetic, lovely part of town – great value for money!

Activities Athens Food Greece

Alternative Athens: The Tastiest Way to Get to Know Greece’s Capital!

June 6, 2017

Jade and her husband, Mark have decided that there’s practically no better way than to get comfortable with a city than to do so on a food tour – we couldn’t agree more!  Read on for their review of Alternative Athens and to gain a little insider’s foodie knowledge about this incredible city.

Walking to meet our guide outside the perfectly distinguishable Public store in Syntagma Square, I couldn’t help but marvel at how fond I had become of Athens and its quirks in just a matter of days. I found a new juxtapose on every corner. There is an undeniable scent of fresh Mediterranean air in an obviously overpopulated city, deposited from trees growing through narrow brick footpaths. Footpaths that were backed by the exterior of new and ancient buildings, none excluded from the marvellous jumble of spray-paint tagging and street art.

Remembering the countless times I had read comments similar to ‘you only need one day in Athens’ online made me contemplate the reason for this. I wondered if the Acropolis overshadowed mainstream tourists from looking past the city’s centrepiece. Or was it time-limited cruise ship itineraries favouring the islands, that tried to justify such an intense focus solely on their ancient structures? Perhaps something else?

Either way, by the time we reached our meeting point, my belly rumbling for it’s morning portions, my expectation grew. We’d been on a food tour before so with an idea of what awaited us and a hungry tummy it’s fair to say I couldn’t wait for our gastronomic exploration to begin!

Love food tours?  Check out our review of Wake Up Reykjavik in Iceland and Eating Italy in Rome too.

When I had found the Delicious Athens Food Tour online my attraction to the tour description was instant; specialty foods, all time Greek classics yet unknown to me and a chance to explore the ‘belly of the city’ with a local? Sign me up! Backed up by Trip Advisor Certificates of Excellence, glowing reviews and mentions in top media and publishing companies I knew this was how I wanted to see Athens.

What better way to explore a city than by its best cuisine?

Returning a smile from a new arrival nearby who fumbled in her bag for a laminated sign, I knew we had found our guide. Tania was quick to introduce herself with a warm and heartfelt ‘welcome to Athens and the morning tour’.

To our surprise and delight Mark and I had Tania to ourselves for the morning. We set off immediately, quickly chatting like old school friends catching up after travels.

Tasting Athens – Why Food Tours are the Best Way to See a City!

Not holding back, I endeavoured to sample everything offered.

Up first: Greek Coffee.

Sitting in a local’s favourite restaurant run since the 1960’s (and for the second time in my life) I had a mug of coffee. Surprisingly, I liked it! Brewed in a traditional Biriki made of Copper, I opted for the sweetest version (I hate to think how much sugar…) while hubby indulged in the full bitter flavour of a traditional coffee.

Tania explained how the drink was more often referred to as being Turkish; due to the 400-year Ottoman ruling in Greece many culinary traditions were now shared between the countries, their true origins lost in time. Guiding us on taking the last sip, Tania explained the ancient art of coffee fortune telling and helped us give it a try.

Our next stop saw us wander through an indoor gallery of upmarket restaurants before turning and stopping roadside at one of the many bread carts found around the city. We sampled a mid-morning Koulouri, mirroring local habits.

Reminding me of something between a pretzel and a bagel, the sweet, firm bread, looped in a large circle was tasty and easy to eat on the run. No wonder this was the Athenians mid morning go-to.

While discussing local Athenian lifestyles and sharing our own eating traits and favourite foods our adventure continued.

Stopping at a well loved whole foods and organic store we were taken to a table waiting with all sorts of treats ready for our inquisitive mouths. We sampled tasty cold pressed olive oils, a delicious vinegar made from sour cherries, feta served with olive oil and again with thyme honey (oh so rare and flavoursome) along with a beautiful smooth wine made from an ancient Greek grape, thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in the 1970’s.

Before leaving we had a chance to look around the store. Check out these fantastic seasoning postcards I found. If only I could send them home to New Zealand!

Loukoum, the Greek version of a Turkish delight was up for trial for us.

We made our way to a store dedicated to products made from mastic; a resin gathered from a mastic tree produced on the Greek island of Chios. I loved the buttery texture of this Greek sweet (nothing like the chocolate covered Turkish delight produced by mainstream confectionary companies) but I am still unsure if I liked the flavour of mastic. It was unlike anything I had tasted before; one of those flavours where you need to go back to it another time (or more) before making your final decision.

Have you ever indulged in traditional handmade baklava?

Our next stop displayed trays full of different kinds of baklava sprawling through cabinet windows in an unsuspecting bakery. Layers of paper thin pastry and finely chopped nuts soaked in just the right amount of sweet honey to give a gooey bottom and crisp crunch on top. I wanted to pocket a handful of each tray! there were so many options to choose from – check out that chocolate baklava.

Incredible!

Having had our morning coffee boost, carbs, cheese and pastry it was time to get serious.

Our next stop was hyped by Tania as we walked; no matter what time of the day there could be a queue because the food was so good, an Athenian favourite. Souvlaki.

The best in town came from a relatively inconspicuous store, mid-block, fronting a pedestrian walkway with simple seating out front.  Able to purchase the meat sticks from the window on the street it oddly reminded me of a school canteen.

That souvalaki though! Beautiful tender bites of pork perfectly seasoned and the squeeze of lemon just topped it off. Had there not been more of the tour to go I would have gone back for seconds… and probably thirds.

To help burn off some of the food we had consumed before our next stop we diverted down a back alley to check out the meat, fish and veg market in Omonia.

Tania warned us before entering that it would penetrate the senses and boy was she right. It was loud, wet (so be careful underfoot) and it had all the expected odours. She also gave us a heads up that the traders might catcall young ladies who walked through, explained that is was harmless but checked we were comfortable to continue (of course we were). Now I can’t understand Greek but I could tell the difference between prices and products being yelled and the catcalling, I could only guess what they were saying, but we had a laugh about it and carried on our merry way looking at everything on offer.

Up next, my absolute favourite from the morning, we had a serving of bougatsa. Freshly made in the café we visited, we were lucky enough to see the chef’s effortless skill building the next batch for the oven. A custard, cream and semolina mix (flavoured perfectly with orange zest) was parcelled in crunchy, icing dusted pastry, I couldn’t get enough of it!

As full as I was, I ate it all and wanted more. Impressed with the dish, Mark and I grabbed a piece of bougatsa several times later in our trip, but none rivalled our first taste of this delicious pastry from that beautifully decorated café in the back streets of Athens.

Our final stop was at a local taverna where we sampled a beautiful honey soaked baked cheese dish sprinkled with sesame seeds and a platter of traditional dips. The baked cheese was gone in seconds (it was so tasty) and sampling the dips, I really enjoyed the tzatziki (yoghurt dip), but found the fava (puree of fava beans and olive oil) and melitzanosalata (eggplant salad) were full of flavour but not so much to my taste.

Walking Athens

Over and above tasting all the amazing food, we got an insider’s understanding of the underbelly of modern Athens. We discussed recent history and local practices as Tania confidently navigated us to each stop. Walks between stops were short and easy, occasionally dodging a cat, bike or car along the way.

As we walked we heard how internal migration patterns in Greece were changing and tired areas were becoming reinvigorated as new trends came and went through the city. Tania shared her love for all things Greek and what she liked about guiding – she had such a passion for sharing her culture with others that it was hard not to be moved.

During our journey there were other gems we saw along with way, like the tiny shop from where all of the bread carts selling koulouri were stocked. We walked through Euriopdies street and ogled all the dried meats, spices and herbs displayed in the shops, ducking in to take a closer look and smell. We meandered through Psirri and the Square of the Heroes, hearing about its Mafia-like history and recent gentrification. I desperately wanted to return for dinner at one of the quaint restaurants under the trees. We stopped for photos with a decorated Greek music cart, commonly featured in older Greek movies.

Tania enlightened us on just how much more there was to Athens than the ruins it was famous for and I was left wishing we had more time.

Ending in Monastiraki, a great place to explore, people watch and browse the bustling shops it was time to say goodbye. At our last stop Tania gave us a helpful map of Athens and promised to email us recipes so we could try our hand at making some of what we had sampled. As promised we received a easy to follow PDF by email and bougatsa is on there. I can’t wait to give it a go!

Needless to say our morning with Tania lived up to the hype and I have been recommending this tour to others wholeheartedly ever since.

Best done at the start of your trip so you can orientate yourself easily through the best parts of the inner city, I implore you to join Alternative Athens on their Delicious Athens Food Tour.

Mark on a map all of the restaurants and areas your fantastic guide will point out so you can continue your gastronomic adventure on your own.

I only wish we had more time to do so – there was just not enough room in my tummy to sample all of the food we wanted to pocket on the way!

Honestly, if you miss this tour you are missing out on some of the best secrets, tastes and gems Athens has to offer… and nobody wants that, do they?


Do you have a taste for seeing what really makes a city tick?  Pin this post!

Check out the best food tours in Athens, Greece. Find the best restaurants, cafes and foodie secrets. Food, travel, architecture, great company, this sight-seeing trip has it all! Are you hungry for adventure?Check out the best food tours in Athens, Greece. Hidden hotspots, food, travel, architecture, great company, this sight-seeing trip has it all! Are you hungry for adventure?

Thank you to Alternative Athens for hosting Mark and Jade to review their Delicious Athens Food Tour.  As always, all thoughts are their own – as you can see though, they had a ball!

Europe Norway Oslo

48 Hours in Oslo: An Insider’s Guide to the City’s Quirkiest Spots

May 17, 2017

It was a rainy and cold day in London when the plane took off – Oslo bound.

I belong to a small group of travel enthusiasts who think “if I’m already cold, why not brave colder.” This little mantra rarely disappoints.

Armed with a wooly hat, pink gloves and a return Ryanair ticket (which cost less than a Hackney Cab from Heathrow to central London, priority boarding and all!) I landed in Oslo to a pretty sprinkling of snow and the cleanest airport train I have ever boarded.

First let me clear up a widespread misconception.

It’s really easy to have a great time in Oslo and nowhere near as expensive as people often say. It’s important to know that before being put off.

What follows is a fun way to spend 48 hours exploring not all, but certainly a good enough flavor of an incredibly pretty and frankly cool (weather pun intended) city – in an affordable and accessible way. The great news is, as summer approaches, Oslo becomes even more enjoyable and simply being outside in the gorgeous public spaces will prove it is a perfect city weekend break.

Must Do’s in Oslo

Buy an Oslo Pass

I can’t stress this enough. You can get 24 hour and 48 hour versions (the 48 hour one proves the best value for money) and best of all, you can download the app to your phone, which makes everything super easy.

The pass not only gives you FREE travel on all public transport (including island hoping through the fjords on the public ferries!) but it also gives you free entry into more than 30 museums and galleries, free walking tours, decent discounts on so many attractions (including ski rental, climbing and concert tickets!) invaluable special offers in restaurants, bars and shops and in the summer, free entry into the outdoor swimming pools.

Discovering this pass made Oslo more affordable than staying at home in London for the weekend!

Get up early and go to bed late

As soon as the summer months come around this is made even easier with up to 18 hours of daylight in a given day. If you don’t dilly dally you can see an awful lot of Oslo in a small but concentrated period of time.

Relax

Even if you do take the above advice and decide to get busy, make sure you also enjoy soaking up the moment. There are many places in Oslo where just sitting on a bench or in a café/bar can be the best hour you will spend in your day.

Get a bit silly

If you have an opportunity to don a Viking helmet, just do it. It’s fun.

If you’re off to Oslo and looking for some inspiration, check out what we got up to in this magical Norwegian city…

48 Hours in Oslo, Norway – The best quirkly little finds around!

Friday Evening

Ice, Ice, Baby

I arrived and made my way quickly into town thanks to Norway’s efficient train system.  After ditching my bag, I went straight out for a proper cold drink at the Magic Ice Bar, where glasses are made of ice and they lend you giant overcoat to keep you warm.

I don’t think it is possible for a vodka based drink to taste better than when it is drunk directly from ice!

The ice bar’s theme this year is in celebration of Edvard Munch so all of the sculptures were based on his paintings and I couldn’t resist creating my own version of the Scream taking a selfie through the ice wall!

Sweet Surprises

We decided to take a stroll through this incredibly walkable, safe city which led to the discovery of a great little bar, Bar Lardo.  This bar specialises in natural wines served with delicious meats and cheeses (the meat is sliced in front of you upon order) which proves the perfect compliment to the wine you will inevitably have one too many of.

I tried a Sicilian orange wine and a natural red which was just a little fizzy, a curious but excellent discovery. The atmosphere here was buzzy, friendly and utterly local – exactly what we were looking for!  It was impossible to feel like a tourist sat at this bar.

There is no-nonsense, no-pretence, no-airs-and-graces feel about the place – just good honest knowledge of what will surprise and delight you mixed with a perfect Friday night atmosphere.

I highly recommend it.

Warning:  It is very easy to while away hours here, luckily walking home a little tipsy isn’t a bad thing and can lead you to discover that in Oslo, even the pavements have existential thoughts.  There is art scattered all over this city. It is a joy to behold!

Saturday

Soaking up Oslo’s Culture

I was up early to make the most of the glorious sun streaming in through my window.

Off I went, straight to the harbour and the brilliant Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art. Split across two buildings at the very end of the increasingly hip and trendy harbour area, you not only get a great dose of art but also a pretty spectacular view. In the summer there is even a tiny but glorious beach where you can sit or bathe depending on your inclination.

You can take your pick from the multitude of bars and restaurants on the harbour-side, many of which will welcome your Oslo Pass. I stopped into Døgnvill where I had one of the best vegan burgers I have ever had – order the Vegan Viking – you won’t be disappointed.

See Oslo Like a Local (only better!)

Once fuelled, my next stop was to the wonderfully named Viking Biking where I embarked upon a 3 hour bicycle tour of Oslo. This is a really fantastic way of getting your bearings on the city, and with Oslo aiming to be car free by 2020 this bike tour feels like you are part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Our guide provided an unbelievable array of brilliant information whilst we enjoyed pedalling and taking in the vast array of sights.  Patrick, our Oslo-born touring mastermind was a fountain of knowledge and even pointed out (what was to become one of my favourite things from the entire trip,) the City Hall bells.

These ring on the hour but they were not playing boring old scales – they play real songs! At 3pm, when I was there, the played the ‘80’s classic, Twist in my Sobriety by Tinita Tikaram – a somewhat random, but delightful sound!

Best of all, the tour gives you plenty of time to stop and explore once you get to many of the destinations and if like me, you arrive on what seemed to be international ice cream day (in spite of the cold, everyone seemed to be eating one) you’ll even have time to enjoy a Cornetto whilst admiring the art scattered amongst the Vigeland Sculpture Park.

Whilst on your tour, it is also possible to wear a safety helmet with Viking horns on it. Do it. It casts a magnificent shadow on the pavement and where else can you pedal around a gorgeous city looking like a modern-day viking?

Post cycle I felt a little righteous, so where better to go than to a cocktail bar ranked one of the best in the world – Himkok.

Moonshine Magic

The enjoyment of this bar with its own distillery begins before you even get there – seeking it out is part of the fun. I will say no more other than look for a sign that gives away one of the building’s former incarnations and push the unmarked door.

If you need a little more guidance, keep a look out for an old fur shop which reads ‘Pels Pels’ in Norwegian.

Once inside you’ll see where they make their own gin, vodka and aquavit and if you explore further (which we’d certainly recommend doing) you will discover it is like the Tardis; there are outside drinking areas, a cider only bar, a taptail bar (they put their best house cocktails on tap so that everyone can enjoy a cocktail without the wait!) and a barbers no less.

For pure indulgence, sit at the bar in the cocktail lab; explore the beautiful menu (a piece of art in itself), watch the cocktail makers create their seasonal cocktails with grace in front of you and then sit back and taste.

Each one I tried was frankly sensational.  I took advice from one of their knowledgeable bar staff (Tomas) who recommended each of my cocktails and didn’t let me down once.

If you’re lucky you will be shown their special collection of unusual and interesting spirits from around the world – it is behind lock and key, but even just pressing your nose against the glass case is good enough!

They have live music on weeknights and a blanket ban on electronica (so as to not put off the older clientele).

The lack of pretension in this bar was an absolute delight – everyone was genuinely there for a great time.

Somehow, with all of its fancy drinks and hipsteresque qualities Himkok ultimately is a bar to welcome one and all. Pretty much how I am feeling about all of Oslo at this point.

Sunday

Diminutive Delights

When you have spent an evening sampling cocktails you wouldn’t necessarily think that surrounding yourself with tens of thousands of miniature bottles of spirits would be ones first port of call the next morning, however the Minibottle Gallery proved to be the most wonderfully surreal hair of the dog!

The museum has a total of 53,000 bottles, most are guarded in a safety vault (?) but 12,500 are exhibited in over 50 unique installations. This museum is so fantastically curious that I don’t really want to give much of it away, suffice to say there is a slide to get to the basement installations and a fascinating erotic parlour where you have to tweak a nipple to enter!

I don’t think my eyes have ever witnessed so many ‘things’ in one viewing, unless you count grains of sand on a beach. And I don’t.

This place should be on everyone’s visit list. What began as a 7 year old boy’s collection has become a man’s enthralling obsession, and I’m glad it has!

Ice in Oslo – Year Round

Next, following a short boat trip I arrived at one of my nerdy pilgrimages. The Fram Museum. The whole building is built around Roald Amundsen’s polar expedition boat and for someone that always dreamt of visiting the biggest white wonderland, it was always going to be a hit with me.

Having recently returned from Antarctica I felt an overwhelming desire to stand atop another boat that had been there too.

It is a deeply fascinating and well thought out museum, whether you have an interest in Polar expeditions or not  There is an Antarctic simulator where you can experience what it must have been like to be trapped in the ice (basically, if it’s a hot day you can really cool down in there), an area where you can test out your strength and artifacts galore – that’s not even mentioning the two gigantic ocean-going ships housed inside.

Setting Sail for Warmer Climates

A hop, skip and a jump away and you are in the Kon-Tiki museum – another building housing a vessel which has survived the Planet’s seas, only this time it’s a raft!

This hand built raft was used by Thor Heyerdahl to demonstrate the way in which ancient people could have made long sea voyages and contacted different cultures.  With his crew, they used it to sail 5,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean. Successfully!

Norwegian mariners are clearly a curious bunch and I felt terribly ordinary simply boarding the public ferry back to the city centre.

Golf (with a Twist of Lemon)

With a few hours before the flight home there was one more pit stop on my list. The Oslo Camping Bar.  I had no intention of pitching a tent, but every intention of playing a round of mini golf whilst sipping another brilliant Norwegian local bevvy. This time, beer.

This bar is awesome!  The mini golf course threads its way under, over, behind and between tables, upstairs, downstairs and finally up and over the bar. There are 18 holes, a maximum 7 par policy to keep things moving smoothly and enough variation to keep you on tenterhooks throughout.

If I could have teleported a bunch of my friends here to help me while away a lazy Sunday afternoon I am pretty certain I would have missed my plane. As it was, I found myself leaving Oslo with an absolute certainty that this was a city I would visit again and with each season so distinctly different.  I know I will experience it differently each time and that’s a great thing.

If you crave the endless summer sun or the glittering majesty of a city blanketed in snow, Oslo will not disappoint you. It encourages you to be outdoors no matter the weather and there are more statues and sculptures per square metre than I have seen anywhere else on my travels.

It’s grown up and eco conscious, sophisticated yet decadent.  It has just the right amount of Scandinavian oddness and is a fantastic way to spend 48 hours.

I highly recommend that you go! Go, go, go to Oslo!


Oslo's quirkiest, most memorable attractions all in one easy-to-read guide. 48 hours in Oslo have never been more interesting with mini-golf bars, secret entry pubs, viking cycling and more! Find out what makes Norway's capital the place to be...

Thank you to VisitOSLO and each of the spots that Zena visited for making her feel so welcome.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Europe Malta Tours

Captain Morgan’s Defender Gozo Jeep Safari Tour – A Flop in Malta

May 14, 2017

Finding and booking with the right tour company for your next destination can be a hard, even for an experienced traveler.

Why? Because the company you book with has absolute power to inspire or discourage your impression of a destination or activity during your time with them.

I thought I had found a great tour in the Captain Morgan Defender Gozo Jeep Safari. I was looking for was a small group tour with a great mix of sightseeing, action and the opportunity to learn about Gozo as a destination.

Unfortunately we thought wrong.

Though we generally look on the positive side of things and understand that travelling can bring with it its own set of challenges, this tour did unfortunately miss the mark for us.

Find out why and see what we’d recommend you do instead to make the most of gorgeous Gozo…

Choosing our Gozo Tour in Malta – What we were Promised

The Captain Morgan page for the tour offered limited information, mentioning that travel would be ‘in comfort, luxury and style in Land Rover Jeeps and followed the same route as the Gozo Jeep Safari’ (a link to this tour was provided to check out the description). There was mention in the inclusions the tour was in a chauffeur driven jeep and separately in the same line a Safari Tour Leader was indicated.

Further information available on the linked ‘Gozo Jeep Safari’ tour included mention that the tour is ‘probably the best way to see the island of Gozo, where we take you to all the places of interest that our sister island has to offer and drive through beautiful countryside and valleys, taking different routes from your ‘normal’ excursions’.

The following paragraph described the day’s itinerary:

‘You will be collected from your accommodation from 7:00am onwards and taken to the Jeep Safari Terminal (departure point) from where the Safari departs for the Gozo Ferry. Upon arrival in Gozo, we will start our Safari to discover the magical island of Calypso. We drive to the village of Qala and then on to Nadur, down to the red sandy beach of Ramla l-Ħamra (Ramla Bay) and then on to the very quaint village of Xagħra. From here we go onto Victoria, Gozo’s Capital City where we will stop for some free time and lunch. After lunch we head off for Marsalforn which is a very popular tourist town and then on to Dwejra the ‘Inland Sea’. From here we head to the Fishing Village of Xlendi and then back to the ferry.’

Aside from the limited information, the tour sounded like it would give a unique perspective to Gozo and online reviews mentioning the Defender Gozo tour generally had positive narratives.  Sure there were less-than-positive reviews but always ones to look on the bright-side, we passed over them.

I hoped the higher cost (in comparison to other tours on the market) was a true reflection of a superior quality tour – it would make sense, after all, wouldn’t it?

Booking the Defender Gozo Jeep Safari

Booking the tour was easy. I called the company direct and the lady I spoke with was helpful taking our booking. Email confirmations came through quickly and we were also offered a chance to amend our morning pickup spot to a more convenient location. This was a great first impression!

Advertised Stops on the Tour

Qala and Nadur

I don’t remember the Qala or Nadur villages specifically… Apparently, our tour should have driven through them but nothing of interest was pointed out on the tour – the GPS on our phones didn’t actually show us reaching Qala so we’re not even sure we did.

We did get taken to a high point where our driver got us out of the Jeep and with no explanation pointed us through a set of gates to a lovely lookout over the coast and sea. Since the tour I found out Nadur in Malti actually means ‘lookout’ and our stop was at the Ta’ Kenuna Tower (Kenuna Look Out Tower) – a beautiful spot for a photo and quiet contemplation.

Ramla Bay (Ramla l-Ħamra)

We did not go down to the sandy red bay at Ramla as mentioned in the original description.

Instead became a stop at what is sited as Calypso’s Cave, which provided views out over over Ramla Bay (and beautiful ones at that).

If you are interested in mythology you might recognise the name Calypso from Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’. In short, Calypso, a beautiful nymph, kept the great Odysseus as a ‘prisoner of love’ in her cave for seven years during Odysseus’ quest. Calypso promised immortality to entice him to stay but instead he escaped to return to his wife Penelope.

I love mythology, so this sparked my interest, but stopping here with our ‘guide’ for the day meant we were left to our own devices. We read about the significance of the site from a run down plaque before following a trail up to a lookout.

The cave sits alongside a viewpoint of Ramla Bay. Blocked from access with steal bars to mark the spot, I couldn’t even bring myself to take a photo of the ‘cave’, a small crevice-like opening leading down into the rocky cliff – it really wasn’t what I’d imagined.

It wasn’t all bad though as we were treated to a spectacular view – check it out!

Xagħra and Marsalforn

Similar to previous stops, there was nothing of interest pointed out as we went through Xagħra or Marsalforn.

Are you starting to see a pattern now?

Beyond journeying through these seemingly uninteresting villages, we stopped roadside in the middle of nowhere across from what will one day be an impressive frontage to a beautiful church. We were let out of the jeep for 20 minutes at what I now know to be Ta’ Pinu in Gharb. The landscaping out the front of the church was under construction, but with the stunning blue sky behind it, the church’s solitary form on the landscape was beautiful. Inside marble and wood sculptural details added additional textures to the carved stone and stained glass decoration and to the back of the Church we found a small hall full of family history and photos which was interesting to look through.

Just down the road from here we stopped at what I aptly named the Tourist Trap Store. I could only guess the store was filled with locally sourced items. Hosting a range of sweets, drinks, jewelry, trinkets and even woollen products it could have been an interesting stop, had we had someone taking an interest in interacting with us as other larger groups in the store did. I might have even purchased a few foodie items to try, had I been able to find out what it was I was purchasing.

Victoria

The Cittadella was the main attraction for our stop at Victoria and we were given around an hour to explore the site before lunch. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, we enjoyed a short video introduction of the extensive history and cultural influences of Gozo before entering to explore. We wandered through tiny streets forged in medieval times, explored the beautifully restored fortress walls with far-reaching outlooks and ran our hands along worn stone ruins of the medieval castle that once stood proud on top of the hill.

This was one of two highlight stops on the tour and we’d certainly recommend a visit to the site!

We had lunch a short walk from the entrance of the Cittadella – more on that soon.

Dwejra

One of Gozo’s world famous attractions located at Dwejra (the Azure Window), was a stunning location to take a few snaps and scramble about on the rocks in the afternoon sun.

This natural limestone rock formation was one of the most recognisable locations in Europe, featured more recently as a Game of Thrones location and in the Clash of Titans movie.

We count ourselves lucky to have seen it as sadly, on the 8th of March 2017 the arch collapsed into the ocean, leaving nothing to show of the once natural window.

Xlendi

Stopping at this fishing village we were given twenty minutes and were pointed to a cliff with a few stairs cut into them.

Though we weren’t told of the significance of the area, upon reaching the top we were rewarded with a stunning view over the beautiful bay.

Tour Review – What we Really Got in Gozo

Unfortunately, the tour really failed to inspire us. Described as ‘action-packed’ and ‘the best way to explore Gozo’, we were left wanting – they’re certainly not phases I would use as part of the narrative to our experience.

Key points of interest which we thought were included, like the Neolithic Temples (a site with construction older than the pyramids of Egypt) were left off the itinerary. I was gutted to have missed it.

Questioning the guide while waiting for the ferry we were first told the attraction was closed (I promptly called them to find last admission for the day was 4.30pm) and then another guide was called over to explain it wasn’t on the scheduled stops, even though both Mark and I, along with the other two tour participants understood it was. Our misunderstanding was forgivable, I may have read its inclusion on a review somewhere online instead of directly on the company website, however the other tour participants were told that the tour visited the temples by their booking agent.

Regrettably I seem to have learnt more about Gozo and where we visited by writing this blog post than actually taking the tour!

Upon return from the tour I emailed Captain Morgan to highlight my disappointment from the day, mentioning the following points of contention:

  1. Timing. Our tour was described as 8am – 5pm. After waiting in the cold and a phone call to the company, greeted with a short-tempered answer to wait and they would be there soon we were picked up after 8.30am. At the end of the day we were back at the ferry terminal heading for Malta before 3pm and dropped off before 4.30pm. This was at least an hour less than the expected tour time.
  2. The Tour Leader. The jovial older man who collected us from the roadside with “Captain Morgan?” and a beckon towards the jeep opened the door to the smell of someone who had stumbled out of a pub. I had the sneaking suspicion he had just finished a cigarette in the vehicle. Sitting behind the driver, I had to notch the window open and deal with the cold chill on my face to allow me to breathe; the stench of smoke was so bad. Also, the driver was not concerned about speaking loudly on his mobile throughout the day while hurtling down motorways and through the narrow roads on Gozo.
  3. Communication. Our ‘Tour Leader’ aka our driver had not introduced himself when we were collected, nor did he extend any further information to us after two others joined us. During the drive to the ferry I asked his name, to which I got an inaudible response. Mark and I hoped he was a pick-up driver and we would meet our Tour Leader for the day at the Jeep Terminal. We had no such luck.  Our ‘Chauffeur’ and ‘Tour Leader’ for the day was merely a driver who’s English consisting of the words ‘lady’, ‘[attraction name] over there’ and ’20 minutes stop’. His lack of interest in his tour group became more evident during the day; he was more engrossed in speaking loudly on his mobile and disappearing to chat with his buddies at each stop than accommodate us at all.
  4. ‘Action packed’ stops. The tour description let itself down by stating ‘action-packed’ stops (this now seems to be removed from the website description). Our day consisted of getting in the jeep, getting out of a jeep, being pointed towards a view and being given a time to be back at the jeep, usually 10 – 20 minutes. With no guidance or background to the significance of the stops or areas passing out the window we were left to read signs and look at the view. Thrilling.
  5. A local’s lunch. Lunch was an incredibly processed affair absent of any form of local feel. Sat at a table without a welcome or any interaction with restaurant staff, the courses silently placed in front of us consisted of a simple tomato and penne pasta starter, chicken leg and potatoes mains and what looked like a child’s sundae (two small scoops of processed ice-cream). There was nothing on the plate that inspired me to think it was anything other than mass produced for tourists.
  6. Price disparities. The lunch stop had instigated chatter with the two other tour participants and this continued into the afternoon. While the driver was off chatting with his buddies waiting for the 3pm ferry Mark and I shared our concerns and displeasure about the tour with the two other guests (yes, we gossiped). Our comments were met with agreement and similar insights from the day. The cost of the tour arose. Their €60 per person price and a free harbour cruise certainly trumped our €80 each leaving us feeling cheated.

In effect, we paid a lot for what was little more than transport from one location to another – we’ll leave you to decide if that offers fair value or not.

The response from my email was a ‘We will look into it and come back to you’.

I am yet to get a further response which leaves us hesitant to suggest that Captain Morgan are working hard to improve their tours.  One can hope but based on the other less-than-glowing reviews, it doesn’t look positive.

Gozo Done Right

Overall, from what we saw from the back window of a Defender Jeep and a few 20-minute stops, Gozo looked like an enchanting place to explore, but based on our experience I could not recommend doing it on a Captain Morgan tour.

Instead, hire a car and take it across on the ferry (prices are very reasonable to do this) or use one of the hop-on hop-off bus services to give you a bit of freedom during the day.

Mix your stops by choosing to wandering through villages, stop at coastal sightseeing spots and sunning on beautiful beaches and definitely get into the historical sites.

I would say a well-planned day would easily see you cover everything you wanted to get to in a much more efficient and enjoyable manner.


Headed to Gozo?  Pin this post for future reference…

Gozo, Malta is a stunning part of the world but plan your itinerary carefully and be even more careful when choosing your tour company - or better still, organise your own trip. You'll see a string of highlights whilst having the time to soak in the gorgeous views.Gozo, Malta is a stunning part of the world but plan your itinerary carefully and be even more careful when choosing your tour company - or better still, organise your own trip. You'll see a string of highlights whilst having the time to soak in the gorgeous views.

Jade and Mark were paying customers on this tour.  Of course, all thoughts are their own and not necessarily indicative of experiences others will have with Captain Morgan but there does seem to be an unfortunate pattern occurring.

Thank you to Sidetracked for their gorgeous cover photo.

Europe Itineraries planning South America Travel

These Kiwis are Off Exploring – Nathan and Sarah’s Next Six Months of Adventures

May 6, 2017

Incase you missed the memo, we’re moving on from Abu Dhabi in June.

The last almost-two years have been amazing, eye-opening and of course, at times, challenging.  We wouldn’t change it for the world though.  We’ve loved emersing ourselves in a new culture, connecting with like-minded people, having the opportunity to travel more and jumping into this crazy-fun world of blogging.  I’ve grown, both personally and professionally (I’ve been teaching here in Abu Dhabi) and making the move has been an awesome reminder that at any age, you can set off on a new adventure.

Since our arrival in the UAE in August of 2015, I’ve been to 32 new countries (and Nathan’s not far behind) which far surpasses anything I’d hoped for.

It’s funny though how, at least for me, opening your eyes to the world doesn’t quench your hunger for adventure, instead it fuels it.

The more I see, the more I want to see.

The more I explore, the more I appreciate how fortunate I am to be able to do so.

As we start on our journey home, it’s probably not surprising that it’s with real mixed emotions.

When we first arrived in Abu Dhabi it was with the understanding that we would probably only be here for two years – Nathan’s job is back in New Zealand and there was never any doubt that he’d rejoin the family business.

When presented with the possibily of adding a third year into the mix we faced the difficult decision of staying put in the UAE or heading off again.  Though Abu Dhabi has become our home the call of the unknown and the possibility of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure was too great to ignore – so, off we go on our way in June.

We’re pumped to see our family, friends and cats and to chow down on some New Zealand treats – I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed steak & cheese pies and lamingtons!  I can’t wait to get back to the style of teaching that I love, to spend some time revisiting some of our favourite spots in and around Aotearoa and to walk outside in the summer-time without melting!

I’ll miss the hussle and bustle of living in the UAE though – the sea of kandoras and abayas in the massive malls here, the call to prayer singing out throughout the day, the attitude towards travelling and so much more.  I’ll miss having friends that have started to feel like family, my awesome workmates, dinner dates to PF Chang’s and Chili’s and picking up fresh caramel popcorn at the movies.

As much as we know we’ll miss it though, there are new adventures to be had.

My confession is I fall in love with so many places. I’m always half broken-hearted by goodbyes, and I don’t believe in non-attachment. There’s no passion inside of that. I believe in burning, and long, and I believe we leave tiny pieces of ourselves in every place we’ve loved.

Victoria Erickson

It’s time to fall in love with new places all over again…

So, what’s next for us?

Europe

We’ll be making multiple stops in Europe over a fairly short timeframe.  Although we would have loved more time there as so much of our travel recently has been up that way, we thought we’d stop into a few of the major cities that we’ve not seen yet to farewell to a continent that we’ve come to love.

  • Paris, France
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • Edinburgh, Scotland (where with any luck we’ll make it up to the Isle of Skye!)
  • Barcelona and Ibiza, Spain
  • Lisbon, Portugal
  • Zurich through to Geneva, Switzerland
  • Kiev, Ukraine

South America

Having never stepped foot in South America we’re a little clueless as to the details of what we want to see and do but we’ve found plenty of inspiration through our friends and our ever-trusty Pinterest account.

We’ll be flying into Buenos Aires in Argentina before making our way over to Santiago, Chile but from there, who knows?

With approximately six months, we’ll be travelling slowly and working as we go.  We can’t wait to have a little more time up our sleeves to to be more responsive with our plans.

Due to the tight timeframe we normally travel on, things have to be super planned-out to ensure we see and do everything we want – this trip will be significantly more relaxed.  Bring it on!

The following places are featuring high on our agenda (but are anything but a conclusive list):

  • Patagonia
  • Machu Pichu and Rainbow Mountain, Peru
  • Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
  • Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia (salt flats)
  • The Amazon Rainforest
  • The Iguazu Falls
  • Christ the Redeemer, Rio, Brazil
  • A cruise to Antarctia or visit to the Falkland Islands – both of these as much less likely but never say never!

Which of these spots have you visited?  Where would you recommend?  What were your favourite things to do?

We’d love to hear your thoughts as we start digging into planning these trips!

The way I figure, the best way to get over moving on from a place you love is to plan the next adventure…

Thanks to Time Wheel, SCMP, Askideas, Keyword Suggests, Traveler Corner, The Bohemian Blog and World for Travel for providing snaps before we have our own.

%d bloggers like this: