At the end of each month I am going to send out a summary of the highlights of the month. I will tell you about any travel bargains I’ve found and update you on our plans for upcoming trips and activities. Here is the summary for May 2017.
It’s almost a rite of passage to backpack Europe. I am just finally doing it twenty years later than most people. Even six weeks into our trip it still feels a little unbelievable that we are really doing this. Anyway, here’s what we had been up to in May.
At the beginning of the month we were in Paris and the kids were still with us. It was cold and rainy as we walked the streets and saw all those sites that until now we had only seen in books and on TV – oh, and of course the internet. I didn’t fall in love with Paris, but I didn’t dislike it either. I think it needs another visit at some point for me to make a decision on it. We didn’t stay in the best area, and that impacted on our views of the city.
Berlin was our next stop. When I started to plan this trip, Berlin was not on my list of places to go. As I talked to people, so many said Berlin was their favourite place to visit. I started to reconsider since so many people we mentioning it. On the list it went! Unfortunately it was cold and wet most most of our stay, but one afternoon the sun come out. So did all the people! It made such a difference to the atmosphere. I am sure this same atmosphere is probably there when it’s cold too, but hidden behind doors.
From Berlin we went to Krakow. This part of our trip will be remembered for the challenge to get there. Firstly I had planned to travel by train, but could only buy the tickets once I got to Berlin. Probably a good thing I couldn’t buy them in advance as there were track works being done so the trains weren’t going to Krakow for a couple of weeks, Flying it was then! Until we got to checkin and were told the flight was oversold and we were on standby! We did all get on in the end, but not without some stressful moments. It would not have been as bad if we hadn’t booked an AirBnB that had specific checkin times!
While in Krakow we visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, and also the Wielickza Salt Mines, both trips outside the city, and both worth the time. Auschwitz-Birkenau was not as in-your-face confronting as what I expected because you don’t “see” a lot. The thing that hits you is the volume! So, for example, you see a few reconstructed wooden barracks at the Birkenau camp. What you also see are many chimneys for the hundreds of other barracks that were burned as the Nazi’s left. As far as the eye can see there are chimneys! The place is huge. Bad enough? Then think that about 70% of people arriving on the trains went straight to the gas chambers, they didn’t even make it to the barracks! THAT is the confronting part!
From Krakow we went to Budapest. It was like a switch was flicked. Magically the weather was warm. It was such a relief to wander up and down the banks of the Danube on our first night there and enjoy the sunshine. We felt so comfortable and just knew we were going to enjoy this city. And we did! Budapest has some amazing old architecture because it was not bombed during the world wars. When it was destroyed a couple of hundred years ago the rebuilt then in the old style. There are pretty much no modern buildings and nothing is allowed to be taller than 96 metres, a figure devised to commemorate 1896, the millennium of Hungary. Only two buildings stand at this height, the Parliament and St Stephen’s Basilica.
Then we were on our way to Rome. This is where the kids would leave us and fly back to Australia. Simon and I then planned to spend the next month wandering around Italy. As we landed in Rome, we still hadn’t planned where we were going to go next, and a new phase in our travels began – trying to figure out where we were going only days in advance. I’ve not really travelled like this before, mostly because we have had the kids with us and I couldn’t think of anything worse than not having concrete plans with kids! The complaining just over a delayed flight can be traumatic enough!
In Rome we enjoyed many of the big sites, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Palatines, the Trevi Fountain. We walked over the historical St Angelo’s Bridge to the Castle Sant’Angelo. We saw so many Piazza’s I’ve already forgotten half of them but at the time they took my breath away. There was even detour to see why the Spanish Steps are not worth seeing (they really are just steps!). Another country was ticked off the list as we spent a day in the Vatican City checking out St Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. I ate way too much pizza (already close to my favourite food!) and tried numerous gelato flavours. All crammed into four days!
The fifth day the kids left! There was a small dilemma with the chauffeur cars that were supplied by Emirates since the kids were flying home business class. MacKenzie had no idea, and didn’t even click until well after checkin. In fact, it was Bailey who twigged, on looking at MacKenzie’s boarding passes to see where she was sitting. “Umm, these have Business written on them??? And your seat is right by mine? Are you going business too?” I knew Bailey would enjoy the experience so much more if she had someone to share it with! By all reports they are now ruined for life!
Simon and I jumped on a train to Naples the next day. Neither of us had been on a fast train before, and he watched the speed get up to 300km/hr. This made travelling an absolute breeze! We basically arrived at the platform a few minutes before the train did, and were off a few minutes later. No getting to the airport an hour ahead to check luggage, deal with security etc. We only got our tickets a day or so in advance and the cost €19.50. Such a bargain!
The main reason the visit Naples was to see Pompeii. We had a full day excursion visiting it, and then getting a bus to Mt Vesuvius and climbing up to the crater to peek in! It was hot and sweaty, and I had a bit of a cold so I was exhausted, but the views were worth the climb. It’s not easy though, and I couldn’t help but wonder how those people in sandals and flip flops were coping with the gravelly surface of the path!
We had hoped the next part of our journey was going to be a couple of nights on Capri, or further down on the Amalfi Coast, or possibly even Sicily, but we couldn’t come up with anything in our budget at such short notice. So the next best thing was a day trip to Capri. But due to a family situation where we had to be in contact with people at home, we didn’t end up with time to even do that. Instead we caught the train down to Sorrento, and enjoyed a fantastic lunch and wander around the pretty town. We will definitely be back.
We were back on the fast train for the journey 476km port to Florence – done in just over three hours with a detour into Rome on the way. Again, booking only a day in advance, this cost us €29.90. Pretty good I think! I had planned to sit back and enjoy the ride, but as were sitting at the train station we were wondering why our AirBnB hadn’t replied confirming our arrival time. Simon sent them a text, and got a reply saying they didn’t have our booking! Oh no! A phone call to AirBnB later, we now have an AirBnB credit to apologise for the mixup, but no accomodation! Luckily the train had wifi, as I then spent the whole journey looking for somewhere to stay.
Options were really limited, but we ended up at the Youth Firenze 2000. It actually wasn’t a hostel as it was sold to be, but all private rooms with an ensuite bathroom. It was small, but clean and neat. Breakfast was included, and the outdoor courtyard was a lovely place to sit and relax. The location could be the only downside as it is a little out of the centre, but it was easy to get to by bus, and we didn’t mind the walk along the river to the centre of town. The price though, was more than we wanted to pay! It was only €7 per night less than our next accommodation, at the Hilton Florence Metropole.
We had booked two nights here to take advantage of Simon’s gold membership, giving us an upgraded room, and access to the exec lounge for breakfast and dinner. A little bit of luxury!
We mostly just wandered the streets in Florence, enjoying the atmosphere and eating. I enjoy looking at all the architecture and people watching. Sometimes just sitting or walking is the best way to take it all in.
I have struggled throughout Europe with the lines to get into every attraction. I don’t have the solution, but to wait 2+ hours for entry is really a deterrent. We finally had enough this week in Florence. We wanted to go to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David statue. On arrival the line was down the street and around the corner. Of course we were then met with the touts, pushing skip the line tickets on everyone. Normal entry is €12, but these people would get you entry in the next 15 minutes or so for the bargain price of €30. Just too exorbitant in my opinion. When we said no (to the first person, we were soon inundated by more) the reply was “well, enjoy your 2 1/2 hour wait! So we left! The museum lost our money that day. How many others do the same?
In the Hilton lounge we met a lovely British couple that invited us to accompany them to the Memorial Day Service at the Florence American Cemetery and Memorial just outside of Florence. While none of us were American, it was still an experience we enjoyed. The memorial is stunning, and the Americans and Italians who organised the service really know how to put on a show.
And finally I am sitting here in the stunning town of Siena writing this. So many people have oohed and ached over Tuscany every time I have mentioned we planned to spend a decent amount of time here in Italy. I can see why! There is just something about this place. It’s relaxed and just a little bit sleepy, but has so much history. So far we’ve just lapped up the atmosphere. Hanging out at the restaurants and bars by the main square, lingering over an espresso or glass of wine. I think finally we are getting into the proper swing of Italy!
Since we are only booking a few days in advance, all I can tell you now is our next stop is Pisa – just to take that essential photo holding up the Leaning Tower! Then it’s a few more days chilling out in Lucca. So continuing to enjoy the Tuscan sun. In that time we are planning a day trip to Cinque Terre, so see the colours and
The loose plan after that is Bologna, then the Milan/Lake Como area, before finally heading towards the Venice area. Not sure yet that we will stay in Venice, but there are some good options nearby. Around the end of June we will finally leave Italy and head up to Austria for a catch up with my cousin and to see the beautiful alps.
If you have any suggestions for places I absolutely must see, let me know in the comments below.
In case you missed them, here are my May blog posts:
April 2017 Summary
Travel Diaries – Norway
Travel Diaries – Amsterdam
Travel Diaries – Paris
A Day at Versailles
Travel Diaries – Berlin
Travel Diaries – Krakow
Travel Diaries – Budapest
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Why did I start this section again? Hahahaha… This month there haven’t really been a whole lot of blogging wins, in fact it is going a bit backwards. You know that one booking I talked about through Booking.com where we were going to make a couple of dollars? Well, they cancelled! Yep, now we’re not getting that extra drink.
My traffic has also gone down, but I guess that was always going to happen as soon as I was unable to spend as much time working on my blog.
I did get eight new blog posts written for the month, which is my goal, so that’s at least something! Writing while travelling is a new challenge for me. Our usual travel style is go, go, go! Don’t waste a minute! I have had to consciously make an effort to slow down a little and include “work” time so I can get these posts out!
Expect so see posts about our first few weeks in Italy very soon.
So that’s it for May, until next month, Take Care!
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