A Travel Blog Resurrected

So…. despite having set out on this blogging venture to capture our travels & adventures as something to look back on for years to come (and allow our family to track our travels when we were on the road last year), somehow 7 months have passed without a single sentence. In that time I’ve fully escaped the clutches of Academic Life, having completed my Masters and remembering what it’s like to enjoy some free time. I’ve also moved away from a job that latterly became quite an unpleasant and all-consuming place to work, to a new role that really interests me and offers a far better work-life balance. So I’ve now got more free time than I’ve had in basically the last 5 years, and far more scope to do the travelling and exploring we both love so much. WIN-WIN!

Along the way it’s also become pretty apparent that Ste enjoys more of a proof-reading role than a writing one (he missed the last blog post he was due to write about travelling home from our European Roadtrip and I’ve totally laid all the blame for our 7 month hiatus on him as a result πŸ˜‚πŸ€·πŸΌβ€β™€οΈ). So looks like I’ll be taking the writing reins. Now that I’ve giddy’d myself up, look out for upcoming posts on recent trips to Spain, NYC, Latvia and our weekend explorations in our gorgeous homeland: Scotland with Louie the Lhasa, our curious travel companion. We also have some pretty exciting trips planned to Turkey & Denmark before the end of the year so keep your eyes peeled for the fruits of my new found freedom. Yee-Hah!

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European Roadtrip – what you need to know

EuropeRoadtrip (1)
Our route: Beginning and ending in Amsterdam, travelling in an anti-clockwise direction

We’ve recently returned from the most amazing European Road trip, during which, over 28 days, we visited Luxembourg (Luxembourg City), Switzerland (Bern), Italy (Como and Verona), Slovenia (Ljubljana), Austria (Salzburg and Vienna), Slovakia (Bratislava), Hungary (Budapest), Czech Republic (Prague), Poland (Krakow), Germany (Berlin) and the Netherlands (Amsterdam). Click on the links to see our blog post from each destination.

The experience was absolutely amazing and if you’re considering it, we’d recommend that you absolutely do it! We’ve compiled a few tips and things to know for the savvy traveller, based on what we encountered on our journey.

 

Driving and Travelling tips

  1. Switzerland is not part of the EU so, unlike other countries you will need to go through border control, show your passport and may even have your car searched. Β You will also need to pay a €40 toll to enter – this is like a road tax and will be verified by having a sticker placed on your windshield. It also has different electric plug sockets so please don’t be caught out like we were (which resulted in phones being charged off laptop batteries to get us through the night). It’s also very expensive so budget accordingly. It is however, very beautiful so definitely try to fit it in if you can. See here to read about our drive into Switzerland and trip to Bern overnight.
  2. Italy loves a toll road. We made sure we had loads of change in the car so we didn’t get caught out but actually, most, if not all accept card. Prices vary, and at some tolls you’ll only be issued a card, which you submit at the next toll machine and your cost will be calculated. So make sure you hang onto your toll tickets! We drove from Bern in Switzerland to Como (click here to read about the drive and visit to Como city) and then onto Verona after an overnight (click here to read our drive from Como and the brilliant time we spent in Verona).
  3. You need a vignette sticker to drive in Slovenia. We knew this in advance but as we set off for Slovenia from Italy we weren’t sure where we would get one. We began to see signs on the motorways as we neared the border so pulled off at a service station which advertised the sale of vignettes and paid the €15 (approx). Β We got up to quite a lot in Slovenia during our 4 days – click here to read about it, and the journey from Verona to here.
  4. You also need a vignette sticker to drive in Austria. Again, we knew this in advance, but we ended up driving into Austria 3 days early due to a navigational error when we were driving back from the Soca Valley in Slovenia. We were routed through Austria and had crossed the border before there was anything that could be done about it. However, the service stations immediately at the border sell the vignettes so we were ok – we bought a 10 day one for €8,90, drove back to Slovenia and were prepared for the Austrian leg of the trip a few days later.
  5. Don’t overpack! I can’t emphasise this one enough. I (Jen) packed for every eventuality and ended up only using about 50% of what I’d packed. I took 8 pairs of shoes, and only wore 3. Similarly, I took clothes that, due to the weather, I didn’t end up getting to wear. The consequences weren’t as bad for me as for someone who was backpacking as I could just stick my lot in the car, but it was an unnecessary pain when checking into hotels and trying to determine what to wear, what was clean etc. If you do insist on taking a bigger variety of stuff with you, I’d recommend separating your packing i.e. one large bag with something like toiletry bags or large sandwich bags to split up the different contents like tops, skirts, dresses, shorts, underwear etc. It may sound unnecessarily OCD but it would have helped me. I had one large holdall filled to the gunnels with clothes, shoes, underwear and pyjamas, a separate cabin bag with my toiletries and electronics and whatever backback/handbag I was sporting that day, and it was just a pain having to sift through that amount of stuff. Whereas if I’d separated my packing, I could sort through my clothing based on the weather with greater ease.

 

Countries, cities, towns, activities and tourism

LuxembourgΒ City, Luxembourg 3/10

We spent an overnight in Luxembourg and explored a wee bit of the city. It was a perfectly nice city, very clean and with plenty of picturesque settings, lovely buildings and charming neighbourhoods. It didn’t quite grab us in the way other cities did though. Now, granted we were only there for one night, and it was raining, so we may not have been exposed all that Luxembourg city has to offer – we concede this point. However these were the circumstances in which we visited every destination so comparisons are being drawn against one another. It’s difficult to say why, but we just didn’t feel excited by Luxembourg, and for that reason we wouldn’t rush back to visit over another destination, but this isn’t a reflection of any dislike.3:10


Bern, Switzerland 7/10

Bern as a location is absolutely stunning! It has the vibe of a year round Christmas town, and has the most gorgeous crystal blue river running through the centre – it looks like something out of a fairytale, really – if judging on location at all, we’d give it a 10+. We really liked Bern, and enjoyed all the tourist spots we went to (such as Berner Munster, Zytglogge etc.), the food was great.

7:10


Como, ItalyΒ 2/10

On the day we visited Como it absolutely poured, and we barely got to see even the Lake. This in part explains the lower rating, however it was also due to the lack of atmosphere in the town (granted it was a Sunday and most of the shops were closed) and an apparent shortage of things to do if the weather fails. Mostly though, we had been really looking forward to enjoying the picturesque views and surroundings of a beautiful Italian Lake, however the town of Como in actual fact looked very run down, and not picturesque at all. We’d be willing to give it another shot, of course, but not over another destination. If looking to visit another Italian Lake in future, we reckon we’ll try Lake Garda, which will allow us to make another visit to the beautiful town of Verona.

2:10


Verona, Italy 9/10

We love, love, LOVED Verona! Right from the moment we arrived, it just grabbed us, and we already can’t wait to go back. This was somewhat surprising, as Italy was never really on our radar before, and we hadn’t been blown away by Como, which we’d visited immediately before. The town is beautiful, there’s loads to do and the food is incredible! Of course it also helped that we stayed in the most beautiful B&B just a few minutes across the water which made the whole stay really, really enjoyable. Next time, we think we’ll try and combine a trip to Verona and Slovenia into one holiday and spend a bit more time exploring as our visit has just left us wanting more.

9:10


Ljubljana, Slovenia 7/10

Our time in Slovenia wasn’t limited to just Ljubljana, but this was our base. We loved our time in Slovenia but more so the rural areas such as the Triglav National Park and Soca Valley. Ljubljana was nice and we enjoyed our time there but we’d have struggled to spend more than a few days. It’s definitely worth noting that we ate and drank very well in Ljubljana and have quite a few restaurants we’d readily recommend. Slovenia as a county though is absolutely stunning, and Lake Bled in particular should be on everyone’s bucket list given the astounding natural beauty. We’d love to return to Slovenia, but will more than likely stay outwith the city on our next visit, and will definitely be sampling more of the outdoor and adventure sports this gorgeous country has to offer.

7:10


Salzburg, Austria 5/10

We did enjoy our visit to Salzburg, despite what appears to be an underwhelming rating. Our visit was somewhat tainted both due to Steven being loaded with the cold, and given that we received some bad news from home during our visit. That aside, while we found Salzburg very enjoyable it wasn’t as picturesque, or quaint as other locations we visited, and lacked the vibrancy of some other cities. However, we loved the Sound of Music Tour, which was very well delivered by our tour guide, Peter, and would have been glad of our visit for this reason alone. The buildings in the city are beautiful and the culture and history is interesting, so Salzburg will appeal to many people on different levels. Ultimately, we had to rank a 5-rating due to the stiff competition of the other cities we visits, some of which unfortunately blew charming Salzburg out of the water.

5:10


Vienna, Austria N/A

Sadly, due to having only one night in Vienna, and both being struct down with horrible head-colds, we didn’t get to experience the city in any real way. We did venture out for a couple of hours to get lunch and very much liked the look of it, and reckon it’s a city we’d really enjoy. Hopefully we’ll return in future and be able to give it a fair go. Until then, it wouldn’t be fair to rate it alongside other cities.


Bratislava, Slovakia 6/10

Bratislava was a pleasant surprise. It wasn’t at all what we’d expected. The old town is lovely with 19th century buildings, cobbled streets and interesting souvenir and gift shops. Again, our accommodation was absolutely beautiful which undoubtedly enhanced the experience for us, but Bratislava alone deserves the rating. We had a really good time exploring the city in the time we had, but still had more to see. During out time there we unexpectedly stumbled across a craft beer festival, much to Ste’s delight, which turned out to be a really good afternoon. We’d go back without hesitation and look forward to seeing what else the city has to offer.

6:10


Budapest, HungaryΒ 8/10

Budapest is huge – so huge that we didn’t stumble across the main shopping/restaurant part of the city until our 3rd day but that didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for this amazing city. There is SO much to do. We tried to cram as much as possible into our 3 days but still left feeling like so much of the city went unexplored. We can’t wait to go back and re-experience the vibrancy of this cosmopolitan metropolis which effortlessly integrates style, relaxation, buzz, cuisine, nightlife, culture and sights. It really does have something for everyone.

 

 

8:10


Prague, Czech Republic N/A

Again, we don’t feel able to give this a fair rating given our explorations started and ended with a beer garden. We’d endured so much rain throughout our trip that when we arrived in Prague and the sun began shining we decided to hot-foot it to a decent beer garden, before peddling away the rest of our time on a pedalo on the River Vltava. The city looked amazing, and we wouldn’t hesitate to go back and give it a real go but until we do, we’ll reserve making any sort of rating.


Krakow, Poland 9/10

Krakow, like Verona, absolutely wowed us! We didn’t have much of an expectation about this city, having really only heard it being referenced as a cheap stag weekend location, but Jen wanted to make the trip to Auschwitz so we planned it into our trip, and we’re so glad we did – it has so much to offer. It’s gorgeously quaint, steeped in culture, and overall just a delight to experience. We had a brilliant time exploring the cobbled streets, eating good food and drinking up the atmosphere and beer alike. To top t all off, it’s super affordable, allowing travellers to live like Kings and Queens for a fraction of the cost in other European cities. Luckily we both loved our visit to Krakow, so we’re hoping to return very soon, perhaps this year. Watch this space…

9:10


Berlin, Germany 6/10

Berlin appeared to have the makings of a really great city. However, the rain pelted down throughout our visit, and after a month long trip of constant rain we were a little weary. We did attempt to do some sightseeing, though the Berlin Wall memorial was closed and we most definitely picked the wrong bus tour. That said, we were in no way put off by the city, we’d perhaps just like to return when the weather’s a little better the next time.

6:10


Amsterdam, The Netherlands 9/10

We adore Amsterdam and find ourselves drawn there over and over again. While we most definitely visited some strong competitors, Amsterdam continues to hold it’s own as the only place we’ve kept going back to over and over again over the years. We love the hustle and bustle, yet chilled out atmosphere of this beautiful city and will most definitely continue our visits over the coming years.

9:10


 

It’s been almost 3 months now since we returned from our trip and we both wish we could do it all over again. We’d thoroughly recommend a travelling holiday for anyone who is in a position to do so. For us, it’s unlikely that we’d be able to accommodate a full uninterrupted 4 weeks of leave from our respective jobs in the next few years, but we’ll definitely still consider keeping the travelling aspect on a smaller scale (perhaps 2 weeks driving through Italy and Slovenia, or maybe tackling the Scandinavian countries over a couple of weeks) . It’s so satisfying travelling cross country and making the most of your time abroad by soaking up different cities and countries, even if it is just by making the most of day trips, and it can be surprisingly affordable to do so with the right planning and research. We have our annual trip to Spain planned for March 2018, and then a big decision to make as to how we’d like to use the rest of our holiday time throughout the year.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Days 27, 28 & 29: Tuesday 3rd – Friday 6th October 2017, Berlin – Amsterdam, The Netherlands

We absolutely adore Amsterdam, both of us. In fact it was the first break we took together as a couple all those years ago, and a place we’ve returned several times since because we both enjoy it so much. It’s nothing to do with the nostalgia or sentimentality, we both just love everything it has to offer: the cobbled canal-side streets, energetic buzz of the bustling crowds, various cuisines and mouth-watering bakeries, not to mention the ringing of bicycle bells as you take your life in your hands crossing the street. Prior to Β this trip Jen had visited Amsterdam 6 times, Ste had visited 4 times (the most recent of which was a family trip in August of this year), but we were both really pleased to be ending our trip with three days in our favourite city.

 

 

Travel and Accommodation

We had set off from our Berlin hotel around 8am given the long drive ahead of us (6 hours, 30mins). We left with one eye looking over our shoulder as, due to lack of preparation, we didn’t have the required emissions sticker to be driving in Berlin’s city centre. We had been aware in advance that we required the sticker, and emailed our hotel on Saturday night (the night before our arrival) to enquire the best place to obtain one. The hotel staff member was very helpful but explained that while the sticker could be ordered online (this is linked to your car’s V5, make/model etc. to determine the emissions are below the permissible level for driving in the city centre), this should have been done days before, and delivered to the hotel for collection on day of arrival. Without having done so, the only option was to take the car to a garage to have an emissions test performed and a sticker issued on the spot. The staff member explained however that this could take 3/4 hours, and would not be possible on our arrival day as garages are not open on Sundays. We were encouraged to drive our car to the hotel’s private parking ground immediately, keep the car off road, and take the car for an emissions test the following day. Monday was going to be our only full day to explore the city, and for the sake of one day we decided to risk the €80 fine and try sneak out on the Tuesday without detection.Β We therefore wanted to leave our hotel’s private parking and get out of Berlin’s central zone without any eager-eyed Police Officer’s questioning our credentials. Luckily we did, stopping for food only whenΒ we were out of the danger zone – what rebels! The journey ticked along without a hitch. Ste drove the first leg, then had a snooze while Jen took over, before completing the last hour, until we arrived at our hotel – Westcord Fashion Hotel.
We’ve stayed in the Westcord Hotels a couple of times now and they never disappoint. Our first visit was to the Art Hotel and was a really modern, spacious hotel with really nice amenities including a really large bath and shower in each hotel room. We then stayed at the Fashion Hotel in August of this year alongside Ste’s immediate family, for a birthday trip for Ste’s dad. While the art vs fashion themes give each their own identity, the amenities are virtually identical. We opted to stay at the Fashion Hotel again only because it’s on the tram line into the city centre, whereas the Art Hotel requires a bus, then a tram. However, we’d happily stay at either as the travel really isn’t that much of an inconvenience at all. We enjoyed a really comfortable stay, and our only complaint is the high parking costs we had to pay – €25 per day, so we had to fork out a whopping €75 to leave our car in the underground parking lot for 3 days.

Food and Drink

We’d recommend for everyone visiting Amsterdam that you do not leave without trying some Kersen-vlaii and Dutch cheese to get the full experience. Our absolute favourite bakery in Amsterdam is called Rene’s and is located just of Dam Square – we always head there for Jen’s fix of Kersen-vlaii, a much anticipated aspect of any trip to Amsterdam. This time though we opted to try somewhere new, a bakery across the square from Hard Rock Cafe at Leidseplein where we picked up some blueberry muffins to take away for the next morning’s breakfast, and some macarons which were delicious! Unusually we went to Β a couple of chain restaurants during our visit (Oriental City, Wagamama, Hard Rock Cafe)Β – purely through lack of planning, and having spent every moment exploring the city, right up until we realised we were really hungry. We did discover a really, really good little lunch room which we enjoyed so much we visited twice. It’s called Grannies and is just the most adorable, quaint little restaurant, serving really tasty food, with large portions. WhileΒ in a more residential area of Amsterdam, and we came across it only because it was close to our hotel and the launderette we visited on the first day, it’s accessible on tram line 2 from the city centre so it’s really accessible and well worth the visit. We also took a saunter over to De Bekeerde Suster, at Ste’s request, a really cool brewery come bar where patrons can sample the many beers on offer, and sample Ste did!

Sights and Activities

This is going to be a bit of a mish-mash. Because we’ve visited Amsterdam so many time there are many sights and activities that we’ve done and would really recommend, but didn’t do on this trip. There would include:
  • Anne Frank House (a real tear-jerker, and something with massively puts any worries in your own life into perspective – very worthwhile)
  • The Museum District
  • Cheese-tasting – we didn’t do an official cheese-tasting, but were treated to sampling the goods in Reypenaer Proeflokaal, a shop close to Anne Frank House, before buying.
  • Renting bicycles and cycling around Vondelpark (a favourite of Jens)
  • The Heineken Experience
  • Ajax Stadium Tour
  • The Red Light District
  • Centraal Station
  • Canal boat trip (highly recommend as the best way to see the city, and get a feel for its history and culture)

 

This time around though we spent most of our time just walking through the different districts and neighbourhoods, enjoying and discovering more of the city. We did quite a bit of beer shopping for Ste at De Bierkoning– he was in his element given the wide range of beers available. Jen also enjoyed scoping out the fabric shops at Albert Cuyp market, A. Boeken Stoffen & Furniture Winkel, andΒ Den Haan & Wagenmakers B.V. We had hoped to hire some bikes on Thursday (our last full day) but unfortunately the weather wasn’t suitable so we’ve shelved it for our next visit. IMG_4431Jen did manage to pick herself up some snazzy cow-print clog slippers, while Ste spend a hefty amount expanding his beer collection.

 

The good thing about any visit we make to Amsterdam is that we don’t feel squeezed for time, trying to fit all of the city’s attractions into one weekend because we always know we’ll be back. So until next time Amsterdam… but for now, it’s time to make the ferry crossing home to Glasgow, via Newcastle. Stay posted for our upcoming posts on driving in Europe and everything you need to know, plus a variation on ‘what’s in my bag’ where we’ll be showing off all the wee trinkets we picked up on our travels.

 

Date Tuesday 3rd October 2017
From Berlin, Germany
To Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Journey 659 km

6 hours 30 mins

Ste – 2 hours β†’Β Jen – 3 hours, 30minsΒ β†’Β Ste – Β 1 hour

Time of arrival Around 3pm
Hotel Westcord Fashion Hotel
Weather Day 1 – Mostly dry

Day 2 – Bright and dry

Day 3 – Really windy, with showers

Steps achieved Day 1 (Tuesday – travel & arrival day) – 14,845

Day 2 (Wednesday) – 17,029

Day 3 (Thursday) – 13,426