Rome – The Eternal City pt 1

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I have dreamt of visiting the Eternal City since we were forced to take Italian in primary school. Monuments like the Colosseum, Sistine chapel and the Trevi Fountain sort of hold your fascination for so long that you half fear the moment you finally lock eyes on them being a letdown. Well I’ll let you in on a secret… absolutely nothing in Rome is a let down.

Upon learning we would be expecting a little bundle in 9 months, my first rational thought once the excitement had subsided was – “babe we need to get to Rome first”. Travel obsessed much? Guilty as charged. So regardless of the outrageous October half-term prices, we booked 4 days of ‘when in Rome’.

We chose a little apartment on the top floor of a residential area close by Campo di Fiore, a bustling market square which holds a fresh food market every morning. Despite being in my 15th week of pregnancy the morning sickness aka all day sickness was not relenting, and as it so happens Campo di Fiore was the perfect spot smack bang in the middle of everything. This made it easy for mid-day breaks which of course never materialised as there is far too much to see and do in Rome to afford breaks! Upon arrival in the evening we promptly navigated our way to our first Gelateria!

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The first day we were up early to knock one of the big boys off the list – the mighty Colosseum. There it was, rising from the ground in all it’s splendour, an ancient monument come to life. I always need to touch the walls of these ancient Roman Ruins to immerse myself in the wonder of standing in a place where so many thousands milled around in times past. We had booked a tour weeks ahead to allow us to access the ground floor of the Colosseum and it was well worth being organised to book this as we were regaled with tales of Gladiators and Emperors, Lions and Shields. Our imaginations went wild and Joel may or may not have let a few quotes from Gladiator slip, or even have claimed to be Maximus Decimus Meridius (I love you babe). Staring upon where the floor would have been, we marvelled once again at the ingenuity of the Romans and the way they went about ordering their society.

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The afternoon was spent as close as possible to how the locals go about their business. Joel and I love observing….and copying. We have learnt whilst travelling that a line should always be joined. So we picked a number in a packed little deli in the Jewish Quarter and hustled along with the Romans to acquire some Pizza Bianca. It doesn’t look like much as it is essentially pizza type focaccia with oil and salt. But omg wait until you put that baby in your mouth. Drool. My carb-hungry plain-food-searching baby seemed to leap in the womb. Joel was very pleased with himself for his performance in the deli even though he copped out at using the Italian numerals we had drummed in our brain at school.

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We were on a roll and next visit was to a nondescript unlabelled Pasticceria which sold 5 items (obviously successfully) and I acquired a ricotta cheesecake with cherry base. Even Joel who doesn’t jump at such things admitted genius. Then we were on to our staple – gelato. Ever tried rice flavoured gelato? You should.

Off we went on a merry stroll through the side alleys of Rome, soaking it all in, marvelling at the Europe we so love, and how tantalisingly different it is to the UK, and wondering how they live and adapt in the apparent chaos. It makes you realise how uptight we are in our day to day lives in England and Australia. Europeans seem to go with the flow, they seem to enjoy the every day, they are not in a rush, they do not look haggard and stressed (well, except for in Paris) and the folks in the cities seem be folded up in the culture of the place itself, like part of the furniture.

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We soaked in the ambiance of Campo Di Fiore’s bustling market place whilst I grinned good naturedly at the Italian men who seemed to feel compelled to make a comment as I walked past. In due course we found ourselves sunning our weary bodies in a corner of Piazza Navona underneath the last of the dying sun – shoes off and content as cats lapping up the last of their milk. As the sun made its final descent we meandered down Via dei Coronari, a lovely and quaint shopping street featuring many antique stores. Despite being waylaid by more gelato, we emerged at the Tevere (Rome’s river) and beheld the mighty Saint Paul’s Cathedral being illuminated by the final rays of light the day had to offer. It truly took our breath away, and I will remember that moment protectively in my mind, as no camera could have captured the radiant glow in all it’s spectacular fullness. The place could have ascended to heaven itself it was that beautiful.

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Morning sickness tends to rear its head and laugh at me most viciously in the evenings which posed a challenge, particularly when in Rome and surrounded by the most spectacular food known to mankind. I could not carry myself far so we opted for fresh pasta at a little restaurant nearby which had a mama making fresh pasta at the window. For those of you who adore Al Dente pasta, you will adore Rome. They have so many traditional pasta dishes which I decided then and there I would track down, or to put it more aggressively, hunt down, over the next few days. Oh how could I forget, we washed it down with more gelato. This time at the oldest gelateria in Rome which we stumbled upon purely by accident by the name of Giolitti, a family run establishment with a line out the door. For a reason! We consumed gelato from no other place our entire stay. The seasonal pomegranate was a highlight.

I’ll leave this post on a high note (or dolce note)… Join us for the next instalment in part 2!

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Stockholm

Stockholm Sweden

No matter where you are exploring in the world, it cannot be better tackled than with a local. This made Stockholm, land of the Ikea flatpack and Nudie jeans, an appealing destination for our long-weekend jaunt in May 2012. Bless the golden heart of Chris Neilson – who patiently met us in the frosty hours of a Spring evening and whisked us back to their uber trendy student pad. Exhausted though we were, it did not deter us from a lovely catchup with Chris and his gorgeous wife Eme (swedish goddess extrodinaire)! We laughed our way into the next day at Chris’s fabulous attempts at the Swedish language, and I probably fell asleep at the point where the boys embarked upon their favourite topic….coffee.

Those of you who know Chris will be well familiar with his expertise in all things bean-related. You can bet where we ended up first thing the next morning…. yup, the coffee shop where he was working. We were welcomed to Stockholm with some stunning latte art (see below) and tour guide Neilson gave us an introduction to the 5 islands that intersect – becoming the capital of Sweden. We gawked at the high scandanavian prices, but as cool as the fashion was, and as hip and trendy as the people were – we kept our wallets firmly reserved for all things Nudie (I shall return to this)! Continue reading “Stockholm”

Soča River II

Soca river Slovenia

Sad as we were to be leaving our wooden hut in Ukanc and Lake Bohinj, the mighty Soča River was calling – and when it calls, you respond.

Before we reached the call of the Soča river, we stumbled upon an incredible find. Scattered all around the Soča region are open war museums. I like to call them ‘boy-museums’ as they don’t have any laborious placards of information, yet instead you are allowed to roam a space and experience what it would have been like for a soldier during the War. It is littered with secret underground tunnels, trenches, ditches, rusted metal pieces and it has even been rumoured that if you search for long enough you might just find a ‘shell casing’ from one of the guns used during warfare. It really brought home the reality of war and how close the combat was up in the hills. The trenches were all connected and at times Lauren, Susan and I would lose each other and have to call out to locate one another.

Now, you will never guess what they were mainly fighting over in this region? Yep, the mighty Soča river. The Soča valley was the stage of major military operations including the twelve battles of the Isonzo on the Italian front in World War I between May 1915 and November 1917, in which over 300,000 Austro-Hungarian and Italian soldiers lost their lives. At the top of this mountain pass you can see over into Italy as you are literally a stone’s throw away from the border. Everyone marvelled at the history that we had just experienced and collectively we decided to make a bee-line for what these countries were all fighting over. Continue reading “Soča River II”

Bled & Bohinj II

Bled and Bohinj Slovenia With so many places to explore in Europe you would think it is crazy that within the space of a calendar year we were treading over the same ground. However, if you believe that, you have obviously never stepped foot in Slovenia. Lauren’s mum Susan was yet to encounter this little natural gem and we were both keen to revisit.

It is all about the lakes in this region – Bohinjsko Jezero and Bled. It would be fair to say that Susan was chomping at the bit to see this part of the world for her own eyes as it has been on her radar since the very first Instagram we posted around a year ago.

Bled is well known for its small island in the middle; an inviting medieval turret perched on a leafy mound and only accessible via row boat. As time was running out and our stop for the night (Bohinj) was calling our name, Susan opted for a rich verbal description of the island and we set off to walk a section of the lake on foot. Bled was just a stop off on the way to the main course – Bohinj. This is a special special part of the world. If Bled and Bohinj are lake cousins, then Bohinj is the better looking one. We couldn’t wait to get there. Continue reading “Bled & Bohinj II”

Ljubljana II

Ljubljana view

As our train chugged into Ljubljana’s central station I was determined to show mum the best this fairytale city had to offer. Joel and I had spent a lovely two days last June lingering by the banks of the Ljubljanica, and it had well and truly cast its spell on us. We had but a day to soak in the lively cafe culture, jade-green river, imposing castle, vibrant townhouses, cobblestone streets and local markets.

Joel was due to join us that afternoon and we were both soaring high with anticipation. We checked in to our airbnb apartment and spent a fascinating hour speaking to the lovely owner – a young chap with a passion for his city. Mum duly interrogated him about the history of Slovenia and the socio-economic situation of the country as we sipped tea together. Of course in return we educated him about the little known island country of ‘Australia’. Continue reading “Ljubljana II”

Cycling the Wachau Valley

Biking up to Durnstein

When I think of these blissful three days in April 2012 I do not conjure up scenes of colourful villages, misty vineyards, and spring orchards… although they were all well and truly present. No, I see my mum’s beaming face, with a grin that could have touched the sun itself as she cycled alongside the Danube river. I picture her with her head thrown back, squealing with joy, exclaiming at all the “negative ions” in the misty air that were nourishing her very being. Now, my mum has many moments where she shines – but travelling she is in her absolute element. I think I must have inherited this contagious love of discovery and adventure. I truly couldn’t visit too many places, or have too many experiences to ever be fulfilled enough to call it a day on my wanderlust. We are the perfect travel companions through and through.

So in saying that, I think I may have to let the pictures do most of the talking.
For me, the shared joy, wonder, and the freedom of a bicycle characterised this beautiful time together. I will forever treasure it alongside the image of my mum so delighted and enthralled with life. Together we explored little villages, cycled through abandoned vineyards, climbed ancient castle ruins, listened to the gushing river, and discussed what is important in life. We browsed charming shops, met intrepid europeans who invited us for fresh fish by the river, swayed to clanging clock towers, explored sacred Abbeys, and admired the spring flowers. As we were ahead of the tourist season, we had this most scenic of paths to ourselves. Usually filled with hundreds of cyclists a day – we did not see a single soul and were free to roam the village streets with the locals. Continue reading “Cycling the Wachau Valley”

Vienna

Side alley walking towards St Stephen's Cathedral and it's beautiful roof

We had one of those travel disasters trying to reach Vienna (well maybe not technically classified as a disaster, but I digress). Oh, by the way, this was April 2012, we are very behind on the blog!

Apparently the central station in Budapest hasn’t quite caught up with the times. There was one ticket office for the throngs of impatient crowds clamouring for their much needed train, and the most inefficient system to deal with the punters. Despite masterminding our car rental return outside the station with an hour and a half to spare, we were waiting with gritted teeth and white knuckles in the queue of all queues until there was just one person left in front of us. The problem was by then our train left in five ‘evil’ minutes. Of course the person in front of us seemed to occupy all the time between now and eternity, and we missed our train by a whisker.

I sulked in the corner and swore under my breath for a substantial amount of time before we lugged our suitcases on a two-hour grand tour back in to Budapest whilst we waited for the next train. In hindsight, perhaps that two-hour lugg-a-thon was not a complete waste of time, as during my pit of misery, my self esteem was low enough to make my first birkenstock purchase – a life-changing move. So maybe I should thank that dodgy ticket counter. Continue reading “Vienna”

Eger and the Hungarian countryside

Loving every moment together xx

This is a guest post by my lovely travel companion… none other than my very own mum! Enjoy…

Off to Eger…….(pron.  Egg-Air)

We decided on a two day adventure out of ‘Budi’ to the countryside to get a feel for Hungary and a more realistic take on local life. Eger was our base.

Car hired and on the road, the countryside to the northeast was a little unremarkable….fairly flat.

As we drove past townships along the freeway, we felt confounded by the strangest sight. A traditional, quaint town or small city was marred by ugly, grey, high-rise buildings. Why? What are they for? Factories? Housing? Are they deserted? Local knowledge revealed they were indeed used for housing and were called a “panel” for short. In Hungary, these buildings are long associated with the working class and the unemployed, thus bearing a social stigma. Up to 10 percent of the population lives in panel housing. We learned that these concrete structures resulted from two main factors: the post war housing shortage and the ideology of the Communist leadership….to foster a ‘collective nature’ to the people.  Despite the history lesson here, for us this posed issues with our photography!!! Quaintness clashes with concrete block!! Continue reading “Eger and the Hungarian countryside”

Budapest

Chain Bridge

In April 2012 I was lucky enough to welcome mum to the freezing shores of our British Isle. We had a wonderful time showing mum how we have carved out a life here, visiting some much loved spots around London before we hit the road. It was a happy but sad occasion, as Dad and Joel should have been joining us. We had been anticipating it for such a long time but heartbreakingly Dad had an accident the week before Mum & Dad were due to leave, which revealed to us that his brain tumour was growing back. Therefore he could not make the trip for risk of further seizures. It was one of the most devastating moments of my life receiving that phone call – as it sank in that Dad would never be able to make the journey to our new found home. After emotions had calmed a little I was glad that mum decided to keep the travel plans, and we instead exchanged Dad’s ticket for a flight for me to visit Australia in May.

So…a girls trip it became, and I was grateful to spend some mother-daughter time together even though we both carried Dad with us in our hearts. He was close to us in all our adventures even though he was not there in person. My mum is an absolute riot when travelling… she has a child like wonder and appreciation for everything, and you are guaranteed to meet some interesting characters, as mum will literally talk to a.n.y.o.n.e!

Budapest was on the agenda as people tend to rave about how fabulous it is, and being fans of Eastern Europe we decided to give it a burl. It was 25 degrees the week before, but when we arrived it was hovering around zero. Welcome to Europe! Thankfully I was prepared with two coats which mum and I shared between us as we skilfully navigated the public bus and train to the city centre to find our gracious airbnb host – who profusely apologised for the fact that we had to travel without our men. We encountered this type of lovely hospitality our whole time in Hungary, particularly in the countryside, but that’s another story. Continue reading “Budapest”

Zakopané

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I love Google.

I bet you have never heard of Zakopane. Neither had I.

We have discovered so many off-the-beaten-track local treats a la Google. I often wonder at the ingenuity of the travellers in previous generations. No internet bookings, every flight locked in at an office, letters sent home across the seas, no idea what your friends and family were up to, and equally little idea of what remains hidden around the next corner of your global meandering. I suppose the benefit must have been that travelling was much more social. We rely so much on the internet these days, that you literally wouldn’t have to meet a single local or pop into any tourist office whatsoever. (Actually I wouldn’t mind avoiding the tourist centres. I always feel like such an outcast exiting with my head bowed low, eyes to the ground, studying my gigantic map, hoping the locals won’t notice my lack of direction and bulging pockets trying to conceal my camera). The shame!

Where was I? Oh yes, google. I love it, as it can land you smack bang amongst the locals if you allow it to do so. Zakopane was one of these times. Continue reading “Zakopané”