Travel Quotes

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Swanning around the world for the last 3 years, we have heard some interesting/amusing quotes.

Here are some of them…..

1.  Traveller, Laos: Young traveller who had to forgo  the $60 deposit after misplacing the pushbike he hired, after a drunken binge. “Who cares! Back in Australia, I spend more than that on drinks on a night out.”

2.  Aussie guy on the beach in Cambodia (victim of substance abuse): “I’ve done all the Europe thing, running of the bulls, San Sebastian, Seville, can’t remember a bloody thing!  Forgot the lot!”

3.  Aussie mate’s response: “Ya must have had a good time though, eh?”

4.  Tattoo all over a guy’s back, Thailand:  “Living on dreams and custard creams.”  (What the..?)

5.  American:  “I always say that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun!”

6.  Young female, USA:  “I couldn’t eat your food like kangaroo and emus and iguanas!  I only eat beef from a cow, pork from a pig, chicken and hot dogs!”

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7.  Visitor to England:  “Before I came here (London) I thought Fawlty Towers was a comedy show.  Now I realize it’s a hard-hitting documentary!”

8.  Spanish guy at Pamplona at camp-site full of Aussies:  “I feel a stranger in my own country.”

9.  Young Aussie guy to me at Running of the Bulls, Pamplona:  “What about you gramps?  Getting involved?”

10.  British kid at Olympic Games, to his mate, ” If you had to eat your friend to survive, would you?”

11.  Busker wearing a brown kilt in Glasgow:  “People used to get sent to Australia for 7 years for wearing a kilt like this!” (See photo.)

12.  Young boy on ferry crossing the English Channel:  “It’s all wiggly, ain’t it?”

13.  Guy in Prague to his wife:  “I’m not walking around any more without a plan!”

14.  T-shirt:  “Oedipus, the original mother-f#$%er”

15.  T-shirt (Greece):  “I don’t need sex.  The government f#$%s me every day!”

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16.  British woman, loudly, about the Muslims she was playing cards with on a cruise down the Nile:  “They’re actually quite nice people!”

17.  Her husband, unrelated:  “The jails are half full of Bosnians, innit?”

18.  Singaporean Indian:  “I never rode an elephant because I went to university and came straight here!”

19.  Same woman:  “Have you ever been to a disco or a pub?  I haven’t!”  (Editor’s note: yes we have!)

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Turkey

20.  Sign at Kuala Lumpur airport:  “Please hand in any guns before boarding.”

21.  Jimmy:  “I was the only white guy on the bus to Tunica and I was the only one who didn’t have a box of chicken!”

22.  Elderly African American guy at New Orleans casino after he bluffed a pot in a poker game (jumping up, doing a dance and yelling out loud enough for the whole poker room to hear):  “Stole one!  Stole one!  Like a runaway slave!”

23.  American cruise tourist:  “I don’t really want to go to Asia.  I like my all-American burgers.  If I want rice, I’ll buy rice!”

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24.  Player in casino:  “All teachers are lazy.  I know because I went out with the same dumb girls in high school.”

25.  Same guy:  “We shoulda stopped paying back money to China when we caught them spying on us!”

26.  Beggar’s sign, Las Vegas:  “Kick me in the balls for $20!”

27.  Barack Obama, July 4th message:  “America is and always will be, the greatest nation on earth.”

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28.  T-shirt:  “Keep the dream alive!  Go back to slee,p.”

29.  American Cousin April:  “Bootsy (the cat) has AIDS and Diabetes, but is a very healthy cat!”

30.  Teresa, younger tourist on 48-day cruise, when she had to leave the cruise early to go back to work:  “It sucks being young!”

31.  Young boy, to his mother, about food at restaurant:  “It tastes like mucus!”

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Turkey

32.  British, when the sun makes a rare appearance:  “That’s a nice bit of sun!”

33.  Juggler to female volunteer:  “Now, grab my balls!”

34.  Heckler to juggler:  (in the middle of his climax, with a bottle, a tray, 3 glasses of wine and a shoe balanced on his chin)  “Do up your fly!”

35.  German guy on cruise to Jewish woman:  “Don’t worry.  We can be friends!  My father died at Auschwitz too!  (Pause)  He fell off the guard tower!”   (Too soon!?)

36.  Elderly British gentleman, on hearing we were visiting Germany next:  “Ooooh!  I always said the only good German is a dead one!”

37.  American:  “Is it true that your government bought back all your guns?  (Yes.)  How is it safe?”

38.  American:  ”Australia?!  I don’t know where that’s at!”

39.  American taxi driver, after screeching to a halt, to a Swedish passenger:  “Are you with us or against us!?”

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40.  Irish person when asked for directions: “Now I wouldn’t be starting here!”

Hope you enjoyed them!  Feel free to add any of your own favourites in the Comments section below, or email us.

Our Year with Airbnb

Should I use Airbnb?

Is Airbnb safe?

Is Airbnb better than hotels or hostels?

Yes, yes and yes.

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This year, 2014, we have used Airbnb almost exclusively for our travels through Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Ireland, Wales, England, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia and Turkey.

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It provided sincere contact with locals, which led to many great experiences and conversations. It added another dimension to our travels and our understanding of different cultures. It has restored our faith in the kindness of others and how safe and friendly people all over the world really are. And we love reading people’s profile pages and choosing who to stay with.

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With our own place rented out long term in Australia, we have even used Airbnb when we return home for Christmas to see family and friends.  It makes sense not to have the hassle of cleaning, re-advertising and re-leasing your home and also keeps the rental income coming in.

If we are staying only one or 2 nights we will often stay in a hotel near the bus station, railway station or airport, but for stays of 3 days or more, which is almost always the case as long term travelers, we will book a place using Airbnbcom.  One exception was when we did a road trip around Ireland.  We pre-booked single and double nights through Airbnb for a 18-day road trip.  This not only saved us the hassle of trying to find a suitable B&B almost every afternoon, but we saved as much as 50% on the rates at traditional B&B’s.  It obviously helps out the owners financially as well.

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This year we stayed in more than 40 Airbnb places in our travels and all of them were enjoyable.  We received positive reviews from all our hosts and gave generally great reviews in return.  We never had what you could term a bad experience.  One host was somewhat reserved and stand-offish.  Another situation had too many people sharing a single bathroom.  But overall we would have to say that our experiences were fantastic!

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Top 10 reasons for using Airbnb?

1.  They have an excellent, user-friendly website with many great features.

2.  It is much cheaper than using hotels.

3.  You get to meet fantastic local people.

4.  All your trips and ‘conversations’ with owners are tracked through the site.

5.  The system of host and visitor profiles and reviews is fantastic.

6.  You can often stay in ‘the guts’ where hotels often cost a fortune.

7.  Your host will often be able to provide local insights that you may be unaware of.

8.  Your host will sometimes provide transport to or from your point of arrival, or other ‘extras’.

9.  Airbnb is a massive organization which guarantees all your bookings and is very secure!

10.  It is available in virtually every country in the world.

If you are thinking of hosting, all of our hosts love it!

Also, a big thank you to all of our Airbnb hosts, many of whom are featured in these photos.

Gallipoli

DSC09786(2)With the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing fast approaching, we thought we should get in early before the rush.  And what an emotional time it was.

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Until you see the sites, the actual locations of all those historic events nearly 100 years ago, you can’t really appreciate the horror of it all.  And to see the graves of so many young Australian men, the youngest aged only 14, brings you to tears.  It makes you appreciate what a great life we have had and how lucky we are to be able to visit this area as tourists, instead of serving the British government in war.

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What those young Aussie men went through, for, “God, King and empire” was hell on Earth.  Young men, dying in their thousands in pursuit of their ‘goal’, spending week after week in trenches in incredibly trying conditions, intense heat, intense cold, flooding, surrounded by enemies, gun-fire, decomposing bodies, flies, lice and maggots, meager rations, must have been terrible.

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At times the Aussies were less than 10 metres from their enemies during the trench-warfare.  Backed by the British, the French, the New Zealanders and others, the Aussies fought well, but they were vastly outnumbered and their fighting proved futile.  The British commanders had underestimated their enemy, the Ottoman empire, so after 8 months of fighting, and with winter approaching, they evacuated.

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Lone Pine

We stayed in the Turkish town of Canakkale, on the Asian side of the Dardanelles.  It’s a great little town of some 100,000 people and is well set up for tourists with heaps of restaurants, shops, bars and cafes.  It serves as a great base from which to see Gallipoli.  It is just a short ferry ride across to the Gallipoli Peninsula, where all the famous sites from the Gallipoli Campaign are located .

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Cannakale

The locations are too spread out to cover by foot or bicycle.  Hiring a car is an option, but we chose one of several tour operators.  We chose Hassle Free Tours who had great reviews and we weren’t disappointed.  Our Turkish guide (Ercan) was incredibly knowledgeable and prided himself on giving a truthful perspective from both sides.

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View down to landing area from Lone Pine.

We visited Brighton Beach, Anzac Cove, the Aussie, New Zealand and Turkish cemeteries, several memorials, the actual trenches and a tunnel dug by the Aussies, Lone Pine and The Nek.  The Turkish Government and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission have done an amazing job maintaining the entire area.

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Turkish soldier returning an injured Aussie during a truce.

On April 25th, 2015, the Anzac Day Ceremony is going to be massive.  People who visit at that time will be part of a highly emotional event that will stay with them forever.  They will barely be able to move for the crowds, so a lot of the experience will be lost.  Visiting all the famous sites will be a nightmare.  Even on a quiet day like ours there were a lot of coaches and visitors, with typically several buses at each site.  I am glad we visited without the huge crowds.

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Turkish memorial

For the statistically minded, here are the death tolls from the Gallipoli campaign….

Turkey (Ottoman Empire)…..  56, 643

Great Britain…. 34,072

France…. 9,708

Australia…. 8,709

New Zealand…. 2721

India…. 1358

Newfoundland…. 49

(Total allied losses = 56,707)

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View of ANZAC Cove from the Turkish memorial, with Suvla Bay in the distance.

Some of the more touching moments of our visit included:

*  seeing the site of the actual landings

*  looking out over Suvla Bay

*  the grave of Simpson (of Simpson and his donkey fame)

*  Attaturk’s famous speech about the dead soldiers, now carved in stone

*  the site of the charge, made famous in the movie ‘Gallipoli’ with Mel Gibson

*  reading the inscriptions on the Aussie graves

*  seeing the grave of a 17 year old lad, whose war lasted just 8 days

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Having visited Gallipoli, I know that  I will find the 2015 Anzac Day Ceremony much more emotional than usual.  If you get the chance, you must pay a visit to Gallipoli to see it for yourself.  You won’t regret it!

Auschwitz

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If any place name suggest ‘horror’ more than the former concentration camp in Poland, I can’t think of it.  What a horrible, horrible place it was.  How could humanity ever have stooped so low as the Nazis did under Adolf Hitler in the final years of WWII?

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A visit to Auschwitz is essential for anyone who wants to understand the history of the 20th Century.  There are many people in the world these days who have lived charmed lives, free of poverty, free of war and free of any form of persecution.  Some of them even think they are ‘doing it tough’!  They need to visit Auschwitz and then reflect again on their situation.

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As many as 6 million Jews were wiped out by Hitler and the Nazis, in their ‘Final Solution’.  More than a million Jews were exterminated at Auschwitz.  They used a pesticide called Zyklon-B in the gas chambers.  Others died from starvation, infectious diseases, medical experiments and execution.  More died with them, but in much smaller numbers: prisoners-of-war, gypsies, displaced people from other European nations and homosexuals.

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There are a number of options for visiting Auschwitz.  If you are in Krakow you can join any of a number of tours at various levels of ‘luxury’.  These can be arranged at tourist offices, hotels, travel agents or even negotiated on the street, especially near the railway station or bus station.

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We caught a mini-bus from the main bus station for approximately $4.  If you do the same, just make sure you are early enough to get a seat, or wait for the next bus, because it’s a long way to have to stand up, especially if you are tall.  And don’t buy a return ticket because it will only be valid on the same bus with the same driver.

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Birkenau -Trains went in to the camp

There are two sections on the standard tour, Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau.  The ‘museums’ themselves are absolutely free, but you can join a tour for approximately $13 which includes a bus link between the 2 sections.  We would highly recommend this option!  If you arrive after about 10am, because of the crowds, you must be on a tour anyway.  You are free to look on your own before 10 and again after the conclusion of the tour.  There is a also a film shown in the theatre, but the languages are rotated so we saw ours in German.  We still got its message loud and clear.

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Line on left chosen for work party – Those on the right are off to the gas chamber

Our tour guide was a wiry, middle-aged woman of Jewish background, who was extremely knowledgeable, informative and well-spoken.  She took our group of approximately 25 through all of the main sections of the 2 camps.  We wore ear-phones which worked very well and we trudged around for more than two hours, with her commentary adding extra meaning to what our eyes took in.  It was horrific, chilling, sometimes upsetting, but compelling.

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At the bottom of the sloping toilet there is a section that lifts up. They then had to jump in with their shovel.

Some of the more confronting images were the specialized cells for punishment and torture, rooms containing personal items of the victims, particular photographs that formed part of the display, and a huge amount of hair that was taken from the victims for re-cycling purposes.  We also saw the site of various medical experiments that were conducted, using Jews, particularly twins, as human guinea-pigs.  The toilet facilities that they endured were particularly confronting.  Because of the filth, stench and risk of disease, the German soldiers did not enter this area.  So the workers, as they regularly shoveled out the gigantic pit of human waste, waist-deep in excrement, were able to speak more freely in there than anywhere else on the site.

It led one Jewish survivor to remark, “Shovelling shit at Auschwitz was the best job I ever had in there.”

It certainly would have been preferable to removing the bodies of friends and family from the gas chambers!

 

Croatia, aaaah, Croatia!

 

 

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Rijeka

We had an amazing time in Croatia.  Pretty well everywhere we go is amazing, but Croatia was even more so.  The weather was mainly glorious, the food was fantastic and affordable and there were all sorts of things going on to keep us entertained and enjoying ourselves.

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Goran Yakas has been telling us all about Croatia for approximately 30 years.  He was ‘taken’ from Croatia to Australia as a 10-year old and has been making pilgrimages back here since he could afford it.  Those trips have now become annual, but this was our first trip, other than a day we spent in Split a couple of years ago as part of a cruise. It was worth the wait.

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Goran and his parents went out of their way to share their part of the world with us.  We didn’t want to impose on Goran too much so we only stayed with him in the village of Betina, on the island of Murter, for 3 days. We were nearby in Tisno for another 4, just up the road, plus we stayed in the capital Zagreb for a while, and in Rijeka for a while, and in Zadar, and in Split!

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Old Town Split, Croatia – one of our favourite places.

So we certainly got a good taste of Croatia.  That’s another of the great advantages of extended travel.  You can hang around in countries for extended periods if it suits you.  And after a fairly fast pace through Scandinavia, Russia and other areas of the Baltics, we were ready for a slightly slower pace and a month in Croatia.

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Beautiful Betina Village

 

Highlights of Croatia, and Betina in particular, were many.

It was great fun just ‘hanging out’ in the cafes and the bars around the main square, or in the heart of ‘old town’, or at the beach, wherever you happened to be.

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Betina

 

It was wonderful choosing which beach or beaches we would go for a swim.  The beaches have a lot more ‘character’ than most Aussie beaches.  There are many of them.  Some are rocky, some require climbing down a lot of steps, (Rijeka!!) but they are enjoyable to visit because there is always shade available, always a café/bar/restaurant nearby and always plenty of people of all shapes and sizes to gawk at.  I liked the topless, occasionally bottomless, sexy females best, but each to their own. Jenny loved the warm water and hospitable people.

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We had some great feeds of seafood and local treats: goulash, home-made wine, dried figs, sweet pastries and so on.

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Goran’s dad and his mates had a singalong one night which was great to witness.  Five of them have formed an informal group that gets together, usually twice a week, to eat, drink and sing Croatian songs.  And they certainly know a few of them.  It was a great cultural experience.

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The Betina Sailing regatta was on while we were there.  It was good to watch all the preparations plus the race itself.  Goran took part in his sailing boat, along with about 30 other old-style boats, with designs dating back to the 1700′s.  The yachties traditionally put on food and drinks for themselves and their supporters.  This included more seafood, goulash, plus unlimited beer and wine.  Sometimes you just have to over-indulge.

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Goran sailing his boat.

Traveling along the Croatian coast.  We traveled for hundreds of kilometres along the Croatian coast.  Sometimes we were only metres from the water, so we saw some amazing sights: the natural beauty plus literally thousands of beach-goers enjoying the European summer.

 

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Goran took us out a couple of times in his sailing boat.  Once we sailed over to his private island where he has built a hut and has big future development plans.  Another time we sailed to a church for a funeral.  We saw the graves of many of his relatives and friends plus the banner that he and Sue Gerrie made for the church.  Goran’s daughter Zannia and boyfriend Nick were also visiting the same week.

 

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More beaches.  Among the many millions of tourists that flock to Croatia in the summer, there are supposedly around a million ‘naturists’.  You don’t get them on the many public beaches, but if you go walking along the coasts, as Jenny and I often do, you sometimes come across them around corners!

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Goran’s mum & his daughter Zannia.

Accommodation.  Goran’s parents have 4 apartments available for rent, plus we stayed in another owned by a friend almost next door.  The rest of the time in Croatia we used our usual site, Airbnb.com

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View from our guest house in Tisno looking back to Betina.

 

Sunsets.  We saw some beauties, especially in Zadar, where many people go out to the ‘point’ each night and they have music made by the waves, entertainers, and some solar powered lights going off.

 

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Zagreb – has a beautiful Old Town.

 

Croatia.  It’s everything Goran says it is and more.  Go there.

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Goran feeding us fresh sea urchins

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Betina village

Tallinn, Estonia

 

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Our interest in Estonia was sparked back in 2012 when we did a 3-day trek out of Chiang Mai in Thailand.  We shared the trek with 4 great guys from Estonia: Marko, Kalle, Asko and Tanel.  During the 3 days of the trek, we were convinced by them that Estonia would be an interesting place to visit.  So we put it on our list for 2014, as part of a tour of the Baltics, also a first.

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And we were glad we did.  Tallinn is a wonderful city, with stunning architecture and a great vibe.  It is just one of many hidden treasures in Europe, which are starting to be discovered by tourists.  I think over the next few years that many places like Tallinn, Riga (Latvia) and Vilnius (Lithuania) will gain in popularity while the most popular European cities like Paris, Rome and Athens will level off in tourist numbers, or even fall.

 

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There were many highlights of our stay in Tallinn.  Highlight number one was catching up with 3 of our 4 buddies from the Thailand trek.  Tanel was out of town but Marko, Kalle and Asko looked after us royally.  We visited Marko and Kalle’s homes just out of Tallinn.  Both of them have done an amazing job developing their homes and we were very impressed.

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Runaware old post Station. Guest accommodation & campground.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even more impressive however, was the job Marko has done developing his guest house just out of Tallinn.  About 30 minutes on the main road south out of town, The Ruunawere Post Station Hotel is quite stunning.   It used to be an old post office.  Marko has kept many of the historical aspects of the buildings but added modern touches like bathrooms and saunas to the rooms and suites.  Out in the yard he has re-established an old well and built a giant teepee-like structure 10 metres high.  He deserves to do well.

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During our stay in Tallinn, the Estonian Song and Dance Festival was on.  It used to be held annually but is now so huge that it is only presented every 5 years.  Incredibly, our visit coincided with the weekend it was on.  It was a massive event and the locals were right into it. Singing and dancing were always a huge part of Estonian culture and took on extra meaning during the years of Soviet occupation.

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They claim that they sang their way to freedom back in 1991.  Being part of a 100,000 strong crowd at such a cultural event is a stirring feeling.  There was a stunning parade of performers through the streets of Old Town to the festival grounds.  Many were in their national costumes and there was a lot of patriotism in the air.

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We also attended the annual beer festival in Tallinn.  This festival combined two of my great loves, beer and music.  There were a number of stages throughout the park (the same park where the singing festival was held) featuring a range of music.  There was one great band with a Jamaican front man, playing heaps of songs we knew from the 60′s and 70′s.  Plus there were lots of stalls selling food and beverages, with a particularly large range of international and local beers, which all went down a treat.

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We visited the Open Air Museum just out of Tallinn.  This was very well presented and featured many historical buildings and even actors dressed in period costume who were working on arts, crafts and cooking.  The café even sold authentic Estonian food and drinks.

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But the place to hang out in Tallinn is Old Town.  The atmosphere was even more amazing with all the visitors in town for the Estonian Song and Dance Festival.  We climbed up on the old town walls and went to a couple of elevated points where you had great views over Tallinn.  There are several squares throughout the city and they claim that the main square is the best preserved in Europe.  Throughout Tallinn in summer there are many places you can simply hang out for a drink or a feed and watch the world go by!

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Marko lent us a car for a couple of days and we also enjoyed checking out small towns and villages, coastal areas and rural Estonia.  It’s an interesting country to visit.

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Put Tallinn (and Estonia) high on your list for your next European vacation.

 

Russia without a Visa

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You can now visit St Petersburg, Russia, for 3 days without a visa.

At first we checked out visiting Russia WITH a visa.  It’s quite a hassle and you need to tick a lot of boxes, like getting a sponsor, providing a full itinerary including acceptance from all the hotels you will stay in.  And you have to pay a lot of money. I have read where some people even tried to do it but gave up in frustration when their first attempts were rejected and they consequently forfeited their money.

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But there is another way.  So if you are visiting other countries in Europe, especially Scandinavia or the Baltics, we would highly recommend that you take up the option that we did: a 3 day visit to St Petersburg without a visa.  It was a wonderful experience.

The St Peters Line runs a ferry service from Helsinki in Finland.  You leave in the evening, travel overnight (with a nice cabin with en suite) and then arrive in St Petersburg the next morning.  You have all of that day and the next 2 days in St Petersburg, so you need to book two nights accommodation.  You can do this through the St Peters Line on their website, or you can do what we did and simply find your own using a hotel booking site like Hotels.com.  I have also heard of people using Airbnb but from what I understand this involves obtaining extra documentation, so could get tricky.

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The total cost for us for the return trip, including cabin for 2 nights and free bus shuttle in and out of St Petersburg from the port, was 255 euros.  You then must pay for your accommodation on top of that.  But when the cost of a visa can be something like $300 anyway, you are way in front!

St Petersburg is a great city to simply wander around.  You can check out all the brochures and websites like Tripadvisor for all the best things to see and do.  The two highlights for us were definitely:

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1.  The Winter Palace aka The Hermitage

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2.  The canal boat tour

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The Winter Palace is simply unbelievable.  You will be amazed by the scale and  the opulence of the place.  I always wonder when I see places like this, how royalty used to surround themselves with so much luxury when many of ‘their’ people must have suffered so much.  The furnishings, the art work, the ceilings and finishings, have to be seen to be believed.  It is truly one of the most incredible buildings on earth.  With paintings by many of the great masters, its current value must be in the billions of dollars.  It gets crowded, especially near the entrances, but it is so big you are often clear of the masses.  Book online to save time, or use an automated ticket machine near the entrance to by-pass the queues.

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A canal boat tour is also a must for seeing St Petersburg.  You get a totally different perspective of the city from along the canals.  Many of the expensive buildings and palaces were built facing the canals, so this is the best way to see them.  And there are lots of interesting bridges and tunnels along the way. You can join English-speaking canal tours which leave at regular intervals during the day.  We tried bargaining but they all seem to be a fixed price, which was quite reasonable.  Save it for a nice fine day if possible and you will enjoy it even more.

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Another highlight of our time in St Petersburg was seeing a kind of ‘youth games’ in the main square while we were there.  Admission was free but there were lots of cash prizes in various categories, obviously provided by sponsors.  Some of the categories included skate-boarding, rap and break dancing, gymnastic feats and DJ work.  The crowds were right into it, as were the performers.  It all seemed a long long way from the Cold War era when all kinds of western influences were banned.

Is 3 days enough to see St Petersburg?  No, but you can certainly pack a lot in and we would strongly recommend that you do it if you get the chance.

Norway in a Nutshell

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WOW! As promised we were blown away by the scenery.

It was so different from where we live in Adelaide, Australia.

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We don’t usually hook up with commercial tours.  We are fairly confident that we can always arrange things cheaper and generally better ourselves.  But Norway is pretty much the most expensive place in the world.  So after some research we decided that a good way to see the highlights of Norway was to book a package with ‘Norway in a Nutshell.’

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It is amazing how many people use this service.  We ran into people all over who had done the same thing.  The idea is that you do the trip  from Oslo, the capital, to Bergen or while going in the opposite direction.  Both great cities.  Because we flew into Oslo with Ryanair, we took it west from there.  Interestingly, the bus from the airport into Oslo, followed by 4 stops on the local bus, cost us more than the international flight (19 pounds) from London! But I digress.

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With the Norway in a Nutshell Tour I would recommend that you buy a ‘Fjord Pass’ (quite cheap) and then book your own accommodation.  Before you book the accommodation, try Airbnb though, because that would be even cheaper, if you can find something.  Flam, possibly not, but Bergen or Oslo, almost certainly.

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Our Norway in a Nutshell package took us on a beautiful train journey from Oslo through to Myrdal. This included Summer snow.  At Myrdal we took the ‘Flam Railway’  down one of the steepest, most scenic, most amazing railway journeys in the world to the beautiful village of Flam. (See main photo)

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Some of the passengers continued on from Flam that same day, all the way to Bergen!  Luckily, we had decided to overnight in Flam and we are so glad we did.  It gave us exactly 24 hours in Flam and then we joined the next day’s group.  Admittedly the food options were so expensive that we bought bread and ‘extras’ at the supermarket but we had a good night’s sleep and did a wonderful walk to a waterfall (how’s the alliteration!?)  in the morning.  Honestly, there is so much to take in that it’s too much for 1 day.

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View from our guest house in Flam. A 14 storey cruise ship in fjord.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Flam we joined a boat for a 2 hour cruise through the fjord.

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We enjoyed chats with fellow passengers, waterfalls, steep hillsides, narrow sections, hydro-electrics, cute villages and improbable houses perched on the cliffs.  Then it was onto a bus which traversed down the mountains through some incredible switch-backs a la Lombard Street in San Francisco and yet more amazing views.

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Bergen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the town of Voss we re-joined the train for the last leg into Bergen.  More great scenery!  Imagine a trip across the Nullabor in Australia by train.  It is the complete opposite in every respect.  Steep, green, scenic, forests, water everywhere.  Nature at its best.  The flipside of course is the long harsh winters.  But for us, in summer, beautiful weather, it was stunning!

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And then you get to Bergen!  A beautiful town on the coast of Norway.  Yachts, seafood, wealthy tourists everywhere.  Access to even more fjords if you are keen.  Mostly beyond our bank balance but you can still soak it up and think how great it is just to be there.  Norway in a Nutshell?  Highly recommended.

London

“If you are tired of London you are tired of life.” – Samuel Johnson & Julie Stark.

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Well, after such an amazing time during the London Olympics in 2012 (see previous post) we decided we should return and see London under ‘normal’ conditions.  We weren’t disappointed!  In fact, central London was probably even more vibrant than it was during the Olympics.  Lots of Londoners avoided the downtown areas during the Olympics, but at the start of summer, 2014 and the soccer World Cup, it seemed the place was packed with locals and tourists alike, which created a great atmosphere.

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The weather was warm and on sunny evenings the outdoor bars and eateries were all packed with people enjoying the sunshine.  That’s one interesting thing about sunshine in Europe: when it’s there, people embrace it, because they realize it may soon disappear!  People who rely on drink or ice-cream sales clearly love it when the sun comes out too.

We stayed at an Airbnb at Isleworth this time around.  It was a pleasant train trip from Waterloo Station and we enjoyed our stay there.  Highlights of our week included:

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*  catching up with the Beauchamps (Lords, Abbey Road and Leicester Square for dinner)

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*  The Queen’s Birthday parade at which we saw many of the Royals parading past us

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*  ‘Beating a Retreat’, a military show put on at the Horse Guard’s Parade

*  the Tate Gallery

*  several other museums

*  a singalong cinema show for ‘Dirty Dancing’ in lieu of ‘The Sound of Music’.

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*  the canal boats area

*  World Cup match England v Italy at the local pub

*  along the Thames

*  Harrods

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*  wandering around London

*  bussing around London

I will say this about London and Londoners:

*  They like to take off as many clothes as is deemed ‘propper’ and sunbake in the parks at the first sign of sunshine.

*  They like to drink outside when it’s sunny.

*  They were behind their World Cup team but feared failure and were rewarded with it. Seen on a blackboard outside a pub….”The English soccer players are like Parker Pens. They look good on paper.”

*  The Thames River is a dirty looking river that breathes life into the city

*  They enjoy a bit of pomp and ceremony.

*  Mysteriously the Royal Family survives, even thrives!

*  London Transport is a complex web of buses, subway lines and trains that does a pretty good job in spite of criticism.

*  They commemorate, perhaps even glorify war.

*  Londoners are proud of their past and apprehensive about their future.

*  London bobbies do a good job.

*  What’s with all the guards in funny hats?

*  London theatre is alive and well.

*  London has more billionaires, international students and professional football teams than any other city in the world.

*  The canals aren’t as cute or as clean as the canal boats.

*  Boris is still mayor and being an Eton boy is an advantage in London.

*  London schools are over-scrutinized to the detriment of teachers, children and the nation.

*  There are lots of old buildings, monuments, statues, churches and lanes.

*  There is a lack of toilets in London and if you walk to the Waterloo loos after 8pm, they will be shut.

*  Lots of London pubs have funny names like ‘The Pie and Ale’.

*  The depth and extent of the underground is mind-boggling.

*  What’s with Nelson’s Column?

*  Londoners need to mind the gap between the train and the platform, while the rest of Europe seems to manage.

*  Ya gotta love free London newspapers, but not the spikes they put under bridges to stop the homeless sleeping there.

*  London’s street names remind me of my childhood, playing Monopoly.

*  How did the Royal Family survive after Charles I was beheaded?

There aren’t many better places in the world than London to hang out.  Do yourself a favour and visit (or re-visit.)

 

Tirty-tree Tings about Ireland

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We have just completed an amazing road-trip around Ireland.  ’50 Shades of Green!’

“Our wee trip were grand! Oh to be sure, to be sure!”

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We have tended to avoid cars for a lot of our travels, but in Ireland it’s the way to go!

After a few days in Dublin we took off in a clockwise direction around the coast, staying for one, sometimes two nights in places that we pre-booked through Airbnb.com  This proved to be a good money-saving way to stay and took the hassle out of finding accommodation in the evening after a day’s sight-seeing.

The scenery was spectacular!  The Cliffs of Moher, the Ring of Kerry, the Giant’s Causeway above, the Blarney Stone, Bunratty Castle and Belfast should all be on your list.

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Cliffs of

Moher

 

 

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Blarney Castle

 

 

 

 

 

Here now are tirty-tree tings we noticed about Ireland on the way round:

1.  They like a drink, particularly a Guinness or an Irish whiskey.

2.  They say tink instead of think and turd instead of third.

3.  There are lots of Rangas.

4.  They luxuriate in every bit of sun.

5.  Everything is green and they claim numerous shades of it.  (We went literally miles without seeing any brown soil, because it was all covered in green.)

6.  There are pubs and cafes everywhere, particularly pubs.

7.  It rains a lot.  A real lot.  And you get rainbows.

8.  The Wild Atlantic Way can be wild.

9..  The summer fog can last for 2 weeks, apparently, but we didn’t cop it.

10.  The Cliffs of Moher had 25 tour buses there on the day we visited. Must be worth seeing!

11.  On cold days, you can see why they like to drink whiskey, learn instruments and sing songs.

12.  Wearing shorts in 10 degree weather, even if it’s ‘summer’, is still ridiculous.  So is having your shirt off.

13.  They like to have a singalong and a dance.

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14.  Some of the roads are a wee bit narrow and there are LOTS of roundabouts.

15.  There are numerous rock walls in the rocky areas.

16.  They like to go for a walk or a ride.

17.  B and B’s are almost every 2nd house.

18.  Lord Mountbatten was blown to bits in the quaintest little village in Ireland.  (Did you know he had dandruff?  They found his head and shoulders on the beach.)

19.  Poetry is popular and Yeats’ grave is often visited.

20.  Many Irish puzzlingly place rocks or pot-plants in front of their houses to stop motorists parking or stopping there.

21.  There are lots of sheep on the road along the Wild Atlantic Way.

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22.  They use dried mud/turf/peat from their bogs in their fires.

23.  One-lane bridges can be interesting and they often park on the ‘opposite’ side of the road, even on one-way streets, which can be confusing for Aussies.

24.  Churches and cemeteries and wildflowers are everywhere.

25.  Parking is a problem, especially in towns, where ‘Pay and Display’ is the trend.

26.  If it’s sunny, they like to be outside.  Some caller on the radio suggested a National Holiday when it’s sunny!

27.  They like good craic.

28.  Camper vans are discouraged through limited parking opportunities and height barriers in many places.

29.  There are still a lot of thatched roofs across Ireland.

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30.  Trimming the grass and cutting back the greenery along the road-sides is a constant job.

31.  Ireland is as neat as a pin.

32.  There is a contrast in affluence going from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland.

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33.  Belfast is picking up since ‘the troubles’ and Belfast now is apparently one of the safest cities in the world.

 

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