Rwanda-ing around Uganda

The Masai Mara gave us a good introduction to the local wildlife in East Africa but there was one animal missing; the mighty mountain gorilla. Coming face to face with a mountain gorilla in its natural habitat is one of the ultimate African experiences and one that we were keen to undertake. There are thought to be less than 700 of these magnificent creatures left in the wild, which are all found in a small area shared between Uganda, Rwanda and The Democratic Republic of Congo – making them a critically endangered species. To put this in perspective there is only one mountain gorilla for every 10 million people on the earth!

Tourists have been visiting the mountain gorillas since the late 1960s whilst creating some much needed income for the local tourism industry, however constant political instability has made it difficult for tourists to visit the national parks consistently. These gentle giants are our closet living relative sharing 97% of their biological make up with us making them highly susceptible to catching human infections, so only a small number of permits are issued each day. This combined with the high demand for gorilla trekking permits makes them a rather difficult and very expensive animal to see in the wild.

We were lucky enough to secure permits to trek a family of 11 mountain gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. An early start was in order as we had to drive 2 hours to reach the base of the misty mountains in the national park. After a short briefing (where we were informed about the rules of gorilla trekking), we started making our way through the forest. It was certainly a tough hike that involved going up a step hill for a considerable distance, slipping down the other side and making a bridge out of rocks to cross a flowing river, all the while our guides used machetes to cut the thick undergrowth out of our way. After the river crossing, we were informed that if we could handle another 15 minutes of intense trekking, we would reach the family that we were searching for! With our motivation at a high, we set of on the most challenging hike of our lives; the terrain was almost vertical, covered in slippery vines and undergrowth, teeming with thorns and required such extreme maneuvers to navigate that Matt split his trousers!! After the 15 minutes were up we were told that the gorillas had moved on and that we would need to ascend the hill for another 20 minutes to reach them.

Three hours after our trek began we were feeling shattered – and to be honest – suffering from low morale, when our guide suddenly said “stop! the family are just around the corner”. As we made our way carefully around the bend we could see a glimpse of black amongst the vegetation, our first gorilla! It was a young male eating his lunch and we were only 5m away from him. To prevent the gorillas from becoming too habituated, humans are only allowed to spend one hour a day with them. As our hour progressed, we saw a total of 8 gorillas including a 230kg silverback lazing around in a tree and another young male having a feast right in front of us. The highlight of our experience however was the female towards the end, which was only one metre away from us and happily lazed around while we admired her and clicked like crazy with our cameras.

Once our hour had ended it was time to make our way out of the national park. Thankfully we didn’t have to return the same way we came and instead we took a fairly easy, downhill route for just over an hour before arriving a the edge of the forest. Our driver was waiting for us there and returned us back to camp where we had a well deserved shower and a few beers. We are so grateful that we had the opportunity to see these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. Such an amazing experience! We would encourage anyone who is traveling to East Africa to pay a visit to the mountain gorillas, and although expensive, it’s worth every cent! Not just for you, but for also for the gorillas as 100% of the permit costs goes towards the conservation of the animals. We took hundreds of pictures, but here are some of our favourites from the trek. Please enjoy!

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Lake Buyoni

Undoubtedly the most lovely lake in the country, Uganda’s Lake Buyoni is a large irregular shaped lake dotted with islands and surrounded with intensely cultivated land. As only small groups could trek the gorillas at one time, our group stopped at the lake for four nights. Our first day was spent in the mountains with the gorillas but when day two arrived, we went in search of an activity to pass the time.

Enticed by their slogan “African kids are cute but ours are cuter”, we decided to pay a visit to the local orphanage which also doubles as a school catering for over 200 students aged up to 9 years old. As we walked through the village to make our way there, we met an elderly lady who after greeting us both with a hug and trying on our sunglasses, showed us how she grounds sorghum by hand to make porridge for her grandchildren.

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When we were done chatting with the locals we continued to the orphanage, where we met the 26 year old project leader who started the charity to help his community after been sponsored as a child himself. He showed us to the year 4 classroom which seemed very basic compared to Matt’s classroom back home. We spent some time sitting at the back with the children while they finished their English lesson, then it was time for Matt to dust off his teaching skills and lead the maths lesson (with some help from his trusty assistant Hannah).

After maths, it was playtime where the kids insisted on braiding Hannah’s hair and stroking Matt’s blonde arms and beard. They thought his fair-coloured hair was fascinating. They then performed a song and dance for us before sitting down to their lunch: a glass of milk and a slice of bread. We were given the opportunity to sponsor one of the children which would have been great as we could meet the child and get to know him/her but as we are currently self employed travelers we wouldn’t make very good sponsors. We would however definitely love to support this project more once we get ourselves set up back home as the great work they are doing is really clearly benefiting the community.

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A Day Trip to Rwanda
Many travelers are unsure about heading to Rwanda given its brutal past but there are many reasons to visit this beautiful country, so we decided to travel there for a day while based in Lake Buyoni. As you most likely know Rwanda suffered deeply during the 90’s when the country was struggling with a civil war between its two main tribes the Hutu and the Tutsis. A total of 1 000 000 people were maliciously killed and tortured when friends and neighbours turned on each other in what can only be described as genocide.

Our first impressions of Rwanda was how quickly it appears to have gotten back on its feet and achieved a feeling of safety and security. A guilty international community that stood back and watched as Rwanda sunk has contributed a lot financially to help the country rebuild itself and this certainly shows as the capital Kigali was one of the cleanest and safest cities in Africa that we have visited. The most encouraging evidence that the country is healing is how nobody is referred to as Hutus or Tutsis anymore instead everyone is simply Rwandan.

We started our tour of Kigali with a visit to the Kilgali Memorial Centre where we learnt about the history of the two tribes and the steady build up of events that led to the genocide. As our visit progressed the displays became more powerful including videos where survivors shared their terrifying stories and photos of massacred bodies lying in the street. As if we weren’t already feeling overwhelmed by the horrific events been described in the exhibition, the final display was a series of rooms filled with large photos of innocent children who fell victim to the killers machetes, clubs and other causes of their deaths. Display panels described their age, final words and memories, making for a very upsetting atmosphere that left us wondering how people can turn into such savage animals. Outside the centre, there are a series of mass graves where hundreds of thousands are buried, many unidentified as entire families and generations were murdered all at once.

As we continued our tour of Kigali, it was difficult to imagine the carnage that took place there in 1994. Roadblocks were set up at strategic points trapping thousands of innocent Rwandans who were slaughtered and hacked to death on the spot.. People fled to churches for sanctuary but the killers followed them there. We visited one church where 10 000 innocent people were killed. As we went inside the church we were confronted with all of the victims clothing led out on the floor, a truly staggering amount of clothes. Many foreigners took refuge in the Hotel des Milles Colliness during the violence. The movie ‘Hotel Rwanda’ tells the heroic story of the thousands of people who lived in dire conditions at the hotel during the 100 days of madness. We went to the hotel for lunch and had a look at the memorial in the hotel gardens.

As we drove back to Uganda that afternoon, we had plenty of time to consider the genocide and how (as the memorial centre simply put it) “That by July 1994, Kigali was dead”. Buildings were ruined, dead and decaying bodies littered the streets and dogs had to be shot as they had acquired a taste for human flesh. Yet today there appears to be no obvious signs of the horrific events that took place. Kigali is a well developed city with good infrastructure and happy people. We’re sure that on the inside there are many scars, but for now they remain well hidden making Kigali an excellent place to visit. We look forward to watching this country grow and recover further as time goes on.

Leaving Uganda…
All good things must come to an end and so eventually we had to leave Lake Buyoni and make our way back towards Kenya. It took us three days to complete the journey spending a night in the nations capital Kampala and one night relaxing by the Nile river in Jinja. Obviously we couldn’t cross the equator without stopping for the compulsory one foot in each hemisphere photo but other than that, it was a fairly uneventful trip back to the border. Our journey will now continue back through Kenya, we promise to update you shortly.

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Exploring the Masai Mara

Day one of our African adventure began at 3:45am when we arrived at Nairobi Airport after 22 hours of travel from Morocco. We were certainly relieved to see our tour company waiting for us and it wasn’t long before we were tucked into bed catching up on sleep. When we did rise later in the day we decided to pay a visit to the Langata Giraffe Centre run by the African fund for Endangered Wildlife. Once there a guide informed us about the 3 different sub-species of giraffe found in Kenya, focusing mainly on the Rothschild variety that live at the centre. She also taught us about their exceptionally long tongues and necks giving us the opportunity to hold a variety of bones including some vertebrae from the neck. It was here that we learnt giraffes only have 7 cervical vertebrae just like humans. We were then allowed to hand feed these amazing creatures from a raised platform and pat their heads all while trying to avoid a lick from that long sticky tongue. We were also given the opportunity to put some food pellets between our teeth and kiss the giraffes but we politely declined, maybe another time.

The following day was spent traveling from Nairobi through the Great Rift Valley to the Masai Mara Reserve. The closer we got to the reserve the rougher the roads became slowing us down but we eventually made it to our campsite just before sunset. While the majority of our time in Africa will be spent sleeping in our tent the Masai Mara campsite consisted of permanent tents set up on foundations with thatched roofs to keep them dry. The other bonus is that once inside the tent there were actual beds, very luxurious and we were thankful as we were staying there for 5 nights.

The Masai Mara is the most popular wildlife park in Kenya and its easy to see why. It’s the classic Savannah setting that you see in almost every David Attenborough documentary complete with an abundance of wildlife. We spent all day Friday on a game drive and saw a wide variety of animals including wildebeest, zebras, hippopotamus, baboons, mongoose, warthogs, gazelles and antelope. We also saw a large group of giraffes, too many to count and every time we tried another would suddenly pop it’s head out of the tree tops leaving us unsure of how many were actually in there.

People venture to Kenya to see the “Big Five” (elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros, leopard and lion) so we finished our first day happy as we had seen 3 of these including some young ones only a few months old. Our favorite was a family of lions that we passed twice in the day. The first time we saw them they had just eaten so they were sleeping under a tree and it was difficult to see them but the when we came back they had moved closer to the road (most of them still sleeping) but we could see them really well.

That afternoon we paid a visit to the local Masai Mara village. The Masai are a very well known Kenyan tribe that have managed to avoid mainstream development and instead spend their time maintaining their large cattle herds. The woman wear large beaded necklaces the size of plates and the men a distinctive red checked blanket. The tribe is also well known for their ritual of drinking milk mixed with fermented cows blood. The Masai men often dance at ceremonies in which they jump abnormally high on the spot and they performed this for for us before asking the other men including Matt to join in. They also showed Matt how to start fire with only wood similar to how the Australian Aborigines do.

After the demonstration they explained the Masai warrior process where at age 15 boys undergo a circumcision ceremony in front of the tribe before receiving their first cow and heading into the wilderness to live for roughly 5 years. During this time they practice hunting with the other boys before eventually spearing a lion and removing one of its teeth which they then wear around their neck. After this they may return to the village to marry. One warrior showed us into his house which was roughly 4m x 5m made of straw, mud and cow manure There was barely enough room for him and the two of us but as he explained he lives there with his wife and 2 children. His calf also sleeps in there at night to keep warm. The house was dark and small inside with one tiny window but he seemed happy there as did his children who we later met. He explained that he hopes to marry a second wife soon and add an extension to the house but he can’t do that until he gains another 10 cows (at the moment he only owns 4).

We really enjoyed the village visit, it was really fascinating to see such a different way of living to ours.   The Masai people are very friendly and happy even though they live such simple lives. Most of them stick to the traditional ways although some do own mobile phones (we are still trying to figure out where they charge them) which they use to conduct business in the tourism industry acting as guides or camp guards. It was one of these Masai warriors that we hired to take us onto the reserve the following day as our official African tour wasn’t due to begin for another two days.

David as he called himself collected us from camp at dawn on Saturday in a Range Rover that would most definitely fail its safety certificate. He took us deep into the reserve getting us much closer to the animals then the day before which resulted in great pictures. A real highlight of the drive was lion brothers who had a similarity to Mufasa and Scar from the Lion King. They had just had breakfast and were out on a morning walk. They eventually acknowledged each other with a nuzzle before lying down for a stretch and then a nap. We continued driving and later in the day got right in amongst a family of elephants and even saw a cheetah!

Our tour group arrived from Nairobi that night and the following morning we went back out for a final day of animal spotting. The Masai Mara has the highest Lion population in Kenya and once again these majestic animals didn’t disappoint. A pride of lions had just killed a Zebra and were tucking in for breakfast. Such an amazing sight! We also struck gold in the afternoon when we saw a group of 5 fully grown males lying in the shade. This is fairly rare as adult males can only stay in the same pride if they are brothers. Even Fathers evict their sons from the group when they reach 4 or 5 years old as they are seen as a threat.

We’ve had a great few days in Masai even though we couldn’t find a leopard (not from lack of trying). Known to be elusive and difficult to spot we weren’t expecting to find one so soon in our adventure so we aren’t too disappointed. Tomorrow we leave for the Ugandan border and after that we still have 30+ days left in Africa, plenty of time to find a leopard. Until next time, Hakuna Matata!

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Riding the Marrakech Express

Welcome to Marrakech
Marrakech, how do you describe it? It’s like no place we have ever been, it’s unpredictable, random and although many have tried, virtually impossible to navigate, you lose all sense of direction in the maze of streets and souqs within the medina.

Our first visit to the main square Djeema El-FNA is best described as overwhelming. Everywhere you look there’s something weird and wonderful happening. Snake charmers blast music on their oboes to calm hissing cobras next to men walking nappy wearing monkeys on a leash. Men clothed in bright costumes bang copper cups together trying to sell you water but instead scare you away while freshly squeezed orange juice vendors try to call you over to their stall by calling out “hey blondie” and “good looking couple”. On top of all of this you have to avoid the numerous scooters, donkeys and taxis that drive with no rules to guide them.

It may sound unpleasant and a bit full-on but once you get used to it you learn to love Marrakech, it’s a really exciting place that is never short of entertainment. At dusk numerous donkeys pulling carts descend on the square and their owners begin setting up mini restaurants complete with kitchen, tables and chairs. We ate there one night and it was one of the tastiest meals of our trip so far.

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Exploring the Souqs
While our first day in Marrakech was spent settling in whilst visiting a few old Moroccan palaces day two was all about shopping. The souqs are a maze of street vendors selling everything you could want/need from hand carved jewellery boxes to sandals and teapots. The shop owners however always try to sell you the ridiculously large rugs or call out to you “hey my friend come look at this copper bathtub”, how practical.

We spent a few hours navigating our way around buying a few small souvenirs along the way. There were many beautiful items that we would loved to have bought but they were just to impractical to carry on our trip through Africa. As we wandered around we discovered different sections of the souqs that specialised in areas such as leather, iron metalwork and medicinal herbs. After successfully not purchasing an iguana of an insistent shopkeeper we made our way to a roof top cafe for a traditional mint tea. They had limited shade so provided the customers with straw hats to keep the sun away. We had a great time up there taking in the view and listening to the call for prayer sounding out from the various mosques around the city.

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I’ve been through the desert on a horse (camel) with no name
It was an early start the following day as we departed Marrakech and headed towards the desert. We firstly climbed a steep road 2260m above sea level to pass through the high Atlas Mountains. We briefly stopped at the top to admire the view before continuing onto Ait Benhaddou an 11th century town that has appeared in over 30 films such as Lawrence of Arabia and Gladiator. After lunch we climbed the many steps to reach the top of the Kasabah and admired the views over the stony desert.

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A further 32km down the road we passed through a town called Quarzazate (pronounced war-zazat) which is often used as a city-double in movies for the ancient versions of Tibet, Rome and Egypt. A stretch of the legs later and we were back on the road until just before dark when we stopped for the night.

The following day was mostly spent driving except for a brief stop for a walk through the incredible Todra Gorge which becomes so narrow at points that a human can only just squeeze through the rocks. We also stopped in a small village to learn more about the art of hand made carpets. The drive continued and only hours before sunset we arrived in a small town called Merzouga which is used as a base point for people like ourselves who want to spend a night in the Sahara Desert. Taking only what we needed in a small backpack we set of into the desert on camels lead by a group of local Berber men whose families have lived amongst the sand dunes for centuries.

This particular stretch of desert is called Erg Chebbi and is constantly shape shifting to reach heights of 160m however in the moonlight they appeared even more immense. The colours of the dunes change throughout the day ranging from rosé gold to orange, yellow, pink and purple depending on the sun. After 2 hours on the camels the sun had set and we were ready to dismount as a storm was brewing and even though our faces were covered the sand still stung as it whipped our skin.

We arrived at the Berber camp which consisted of simple tents with sleeping mats and blankets inside. There was a main tent with candles and this is where the Berbers served us dinner before performing some traditional music for entertainment. When the candles were out there wasn’t much left to do other then lie in the sand and admire the stars before getting some sleep.

We were awoken at 4:30am and back on the camels by 5am and as we rode we watched the sun rise slowly above the dunes The wind had settled down by now so this 2 hour camel journey was more bearable then the last but was definitely still long enough.

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Fez: The not-so-happy ending
After breakfast it was time to make or way to our next destination, Fez. Our tour group was heading back to Marrakech so we had to do some independent travel. After talking to the locals it seemed that a taxi was the best option. Although an unconventional way to travel 8 hours and 100’s Km the taxi driver said it was a normal journey for him and it was a bargain for us, only 45€! We shared the ride with a group of Brazilians from our desert camp so it was a bit squashy and there was a bit of confusion finding our accommodation in Fez but it all worked out fine in the end. We were staying in a beautiful old riad in the centre of the old town and couldn’t wait to explore the city to it’s fullest the next day.

Unfortunately that is where this particular story ends and it doesn’t have a very happy ending. Food poisoning struck us down. Matt recovered rather quickly but not Hannah. We spent four days in Fez and didn’t see any sites other then medical facilities and supermarkets. We had to cancel our plans to travel by train to Casablanca instead staying an extra night in Fez to attempt recovery. This meant catching an unplanned flight from Fez to Casablanca at 5am on Tuesday so that we could make our noon flight to Nairobi via Cairo. Not a good end to what started out as a brilliant holiday. It’s such a shame because up until getting sick we were really enjoying the Moroccan culture and food. With time we will forget the bad memories and focus on the good but until then we can’t even consider looking at, let alone eating another tagine.

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Onwards we travel… Through Hungary, Austria & Germany

Beautiful Budapest built on the banks of the Danube river is divided into Buda on the west bank and Pest on the east. We arrived in the city after an interesting 7 hour train ride from Zagreb, Croatia where the train stopped in the middle of nowhere before reversing several kilometers several times throughout the journey. We were concerned the the driver was not paying attention and kept missing the turns.

We had two full days to explore this city which meant one day dedicated to each side of the river beginning with Pest and its Basilica of St Stephen which took over half a century to build due to its dome collapsing during construction in 1868. The main draw card of the Bacillia is the mummified right hand of St Stephen an object of great devotion for some however we found it rather eerie.

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Lunch time arrived and we decided to give the Hungarian speciality, goulash a try. Traditional goulash is served as a soup in Hungary rather then a stew and tastes a bit like beef stock with chunks of meat and potato mixed through. To be honest it was a little bland for our taste buds. The Hungarian dish that most closely resembles what we would call goulash back home is called pörkölt a paprika infused stew served with potato dumplings. We had it for dinner that night and we were not disappointed.

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Day 2 in Budapest meant exploring the Buda side of the river with it’s many medieval buildings accessible by the sikló also known as a funicular railway. A short ride up the hill in the little capsule provided excellent views across the river. When we reached the top we paid a visit to the Matthias church designed in 1896 and recognizable for its colorful tiled roof and spire.

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A lovely walk across the famous Széchenyi chain bridge (unique as it was the first dry link between Buda and Pest) before we made our way to one of Budapest’s many thermal baths. Budapest lies on a geological fault line resulting in 30 000 cubic meters of hot spring water ranging from warm to scalding temperatures which gush from 123 natural springs. We chose to visit the Széchenyi baths which are the largest in Budapest and one of the warmest with tempretures averaging 38 degrees Celsius. After we had spent a few hours relaxing in the water we made our way back to our hostel where the owner had cooked a traditional Hungarian meal for everyone. We spent the night eating and drinking with a group of people from various countries round the world before getting some rest in anticipation for our travels to Austria the following day.

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Next on the agenda was Vienna and what’s not to love about the beautiful, historical capital of Austria? Although it poured rain practically non-stop while we were there we still managed to take in some of the history, culture and food on offer.

A walk around town took us past the city’s 12th century cathedral complete with a mosaic roof, the famous and breathtaking Hofburg Imperial Palace and the museum quarter. A historical highlight of our visit was when we visited Heroes Square the very place that Adolf Hitler stood in 1938 and declared Austria as a part of Germany. After that day Austrians were forbidden to say the word Austria.

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When the rain got too heavy we took shelter in the Albertina, one of Vienna’s finest art galleries displaying artworks by some of our favourites including Picasso and Monet. Afterwards we made our way to Cafe Sacher, a coffee house celebrated for it’s famous Sacher Torte; a rich chocolate cake with apricot jam. Cafe Sacher has been baking this tasty treat since 1832 and to this day still keeps the recipe a secret.

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Our time in Vienna ended appropriately with chicken schnitzel for dinner and a few drinks at a local bar. Ready to head onwards and explore more of Austria the following day.

The next morning we caught the train to Salzburg, a tranquil little town, surrounded by mountains complete with a grand castle overlooking the quite streets where Mozart grew up. We paid a visit to his old house when we were exploring the old town district.

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Salzburg is well known for one other thing… The Sound of Music. The movie is based on a true story that originates from Salzburg and many scenes were filmed in the surrounding areas. We joined a sound of music tour that took us to many of the filming locations, the most famous been the pavilion where “Sixteen going on seventeen” was filmed and the Schloss Mirabell Palace where the young Von Trapps practiced “Do-Re-Mi”.

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Ending our European adventure with a bang! (and lots of beer)

So this is where the European leg of our journey ends and what a way to end it, spending the weekend in Munich for the annual Oktoberfest celebrations. Oktoberfest is the largest people’s fair in the world consisting of 14 huge beer tents seating between 3000-8000 each. The tents open at 10am every day and serve their own brew of beer in one litre steins consistently throughout the day with a variety of delicious German food while a band entertains the crowd.

We spent two days at the festival, one was spent in the Löwenbräu tent, a local beer tent with a 4.5m lion seated on the roof of the who occasionally drinks from his beer while the second day was spent at the Hofbräuhaus a large rowdy tent very popular with Australians.

There’s not much we can say about our time in Munich other then we drank way too much beer, ate lots of currywurst, had delicious pork knuckle and experienced terrible hangovers but it was a great experience where we met lots of fun people and made great new friends. Even if we could remember more of the experience it probably wouldn’t impress our mothers if we published it on the Internet so we will leave you with some interesting Oktoberfest facts instead.

True or False Oktoberfest beer maids can carry up to 14 one litre steins at a time
TRUE We saw it with our own eyes

True or False You can purchase half meter sausages at Oktoberfest
TRUE We ate one

True or False 6.7 million litres were consumed over the 16 day period in 2013
TRUE We were responsible for drinking 24 litres of the 6.7 million

True or False There is a spinning teacup ride in the amusement park section of Oktoberfest
FALSE Hannah thought there was but after purchasing the tickets without looking too closely we found out the hard way that it is actually a ride that spins the individual capsules very quickly whilst the platform underneath the ride rises to a vertical position resulting in an extreme ferris wheel. Not good after 5+ litres of beer and a sever fear of heights

True or False There is no Australian embassy in Munich however for 3 weeks every year whilst Oktoberfest is happening Australia rents a room from the Munich government to cope with the increase in lost Australian passports
TRUE But don’t worry parents we didn’t find this one out for ourselves, just from talking to others who have been unlucky enough to loose their passports after too many delicious German beers

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Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina

After a few weeks in Italy and with slightly chunkier waistlines we decided it was time to make our way across the border to Eastern Europe starting with Slovenia. The journey only took a few hours by bus and as we made our way across the Slovenian countryside we couldn’t help but instantly fall in love with the lush green landscape, snow capped mountains and small churches dotted around. We arrived in the country’s capital, Ljubljana in the late afternoon and after settling in decided a drink was in order. A problem we commonly encountered in Italy and Greece was finding a cheap pint of beer (what economic crisis??) so Ljubljana instantly gained our approval when we discovered the drink prices.

The following day we began exploring. The first obvious sight was the dazzling hilltop castle acting like the city’s crown. Ljubljana Castle (Ljubljanski Grad) mostly dates from a 16th-century rebuilding following the 1511 earthquake. It was a royal residence in the 17th and 18th centuries and a prison in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries.

The other striking feature of Ljubljana is it’s emerald green river and the many bridges that cross it. The most famous of these is the Dragon Bridge decorated with large bronze statues on either end. Legends say that the bronze dragons wiggle their tails whenever a virgin crosses the bridge. The dragon is the symbol of the Ljubljana and features frequently around town.

Lunch time arrived at the perfect time as we turned a corned and stumbled across the food markets. What to eat?? There was a mix of typical Eastern European food such as pork and potatoes along with German sausages, Indian curries and even Thai. For no more then 10€ we consumed a multi-course feast before continuing on with our day.

As we made our way into Old Town, the oldest and most important historical quarter it became obvious that a large portion of the buildings – with their traditional charm – had retained their medieval layout including the city hall which stands tall with a dragon statue high upon it’s roof. It must be noted that this traffic free section of the city is exceptionally clean which adds to the beauty of the place.

As we approached another important river crossing, the Triple Bridge originally built in 1842, the 17th-century salmon-pink Franciscan Church of the Annunciation came into view. It stands on the northern side of Prešernov Square and holds the remains of Saint Deodatus in a glass coffin to the side of the main altar. Prešernov Square is a central and photogenic place that forms the link between the central modern part of town and the old. In it’s centre stands the Prešernov monument which was erected in honor of Slovenia’s greatest poet France Prešernov.

Before long we found ourselves at one of the many riverside bars enjoying a cold drink and admiring the views. Been a university city there are many bars to choose from all offering cheap drinks for happy hour usually around 6pm, perfect timing after a day of sight seeing. Although Ljubljana may lack the grandeur and big ticket attractions of other European cities it makes up for it with it’s many parks, architecture and atmospheric bars. While cities like Paris and Rome leave you feeling tired and weary at the end of the day Ljubljana leaves you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.

Lake Bled

A trip to Slovenia isn’t complete without a visit to the nearby town of Bled so the next day we decided to take a day trip. The reason so many tourists visit Bled every day is to see its emerald-green lake, centered with the tiny, tear-shaped Bled Island (Blejski Otok) – the only true island in Slovenia. The tiny island has a small church which has been present since the 9th century.

Apart from the picture-postcard church on an island Bled is also identifiable by its medieval castle which clings to a rocky cliff more then 100m above the lake with some of the highest peaks of the Julian Alps and the Karavanke as a backdrop. As it was a clear, sunny day, we could clearly make out Mount Stol (2236m) and Slovenia’s highest peak, Mount Triglav (2864m), in the distance. Bled Castle is built on two levels which date back to the early 11th century although most of what stands is from the 16th century. For 800 years it was the seat of the Bishops of Brixen and is exactly how people would imagine a medieval fortress to be – with towers, ramparts and moats.

We began to walk around the circumference of the lake while avoiding the athletes who were competing in the annual bled triathlon that day. The walk is 6km long and as we made our way around we could hear the bells ringing from the belfry of the little island church. At the halfway point we decided against purchasing a ticket for a gondola ride to the island and instead decided to hire a row boat and make our own way there. After a rusty start, and what Matt refers to as “getting a feel for it”, it was smooth sailing to Bled Island. Once docked we made our way up the hundreds of stairs to the church. Stopping for a rest we noticed boats making their way across to the island decorated with flowers. It was a wedding but how was the bride going to ascend all those stairs to get to the church in her dress! Easy, the groom carried her.

Upon returning our row boat, we decided to spend our last moments in Bled with a refreshing swim in the beautiful, emerald-green waters before returning to Ljubljana for another quite night of beer and food.

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An early start the next morning followed by an international train ride followed by a short flight and we arrived in the coastal town of Dubrovnik. We previously visited Croatia back in 2012 and fell in love with Dubrovnik’s character and atmosphere so we made sure we had time on this holiday to revisit. We hired a beautiful apartment with views over old town and spent our first afternoon just relaxing while admiring the view. Last time we were in Dubrovnik we had one of the best meals of our life and we couldn’t wait for dinner time to return to the same dockside restaurant and relive the moment. It was everything remembered it to be, the seafood rice was fresh and delicious with lots of mussels, prawns and squid. We went to bed with happy tummies that night.

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Last time we were in Dubrovnik we were pushed for time and never got to walk around the spectacular city walls, Dubrovnik’s number one tourist attraction. This time we made it our main priority. The walls were built between the 13th and 16th centuries and are still fully intact today. The views while you walk are amazing consisting of clear blue water on one side and a sea of terracotta roofs and marble footpaths on the other side. Later that day while Hannah spent some time in the sun Matt decided to climb the nearby Fort of Saint Lawrance. Although built centuries ago to provide extra protection for the city. Matt’s motivation for climbing was not historical but because a film crew was up there filming his favourite tv show: Game of Thrones. Although he couldn’t spot any of the big name stars he did get a good look at the set and a sneak preview of the upcoming series.

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Our final night in Dubrovnik was spent appropriately drinking at one the many good bars on offer. Our bar of choice served up delicious cocktails in a unique way, in a sandcastle bucket complete with a spade for decoration. After a few of these we were ready for another amazing meal this time a large seafood platter. A perfect way to end our time in this perfect city.

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While based in Dubrovnik we took the opportunity to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina as the border is close and easily accessible with many tour companies offering day trips. We left in the morning and arrived in the town of Mostar just before lunch. A local guide was waiting to show us around town. He began his tour by saying

“Don’t think that just because I joke about the war I don’t take it seriously, making jokes about it is the only way we can deal with what happened here”

What an opening line. As he showed us around it was really obvious that this beautiful town with its green coloured, copper based river running through the middle had been to hell and back in recent decades. He showed us churches that had been rebuilt from scratch, mosques with bullet holes and we often saw written on walls “Don’t forget 93”.

The most famous site in town is Mostar’s new old bridge. Originally built in 1566 but famously destroyed by the Serbs in the early 1900s it was recently rebuilt to look exactly as it once did. In summer local boys dive of the 21m into the freezing river below to earn their right to manhood. Unfortunately there were no keen divers the day we visited but we still enjoyed crossing the bridge and taking in the spectacular views on offer.

Although only short we really enjoyed our short trip to Bosnia and Herzgovina. It was apparent to us that given time this small but amazing country will begin to experience more tourism and it deserves it as it has so much to offer. With the current election going on back home and everybody expressing their views about the big issues it became apparent to us how more Australians should visit countries like this to put into perspective just how lucky we are to have the option for free and accessible services like health and education. People in countries like this are just thankful to have a safe place to live and raise their families and a stable government let alone a prime minister that they actually like. An unemployment rate of 44% means things wont improve to quickly so make sure you visit Bosnia and Herzegovina on your next European holiday and help their economy! We promise you’ll love it.

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A one hour flight from Dubrovnik and we were in the nations capital Zagreb. We had plans to catch an early morning train to Budapest so we only had a few hours to explore this city before sunset. We ourselves like many others are guilty of visiting Croatia in the past without even considering a visit to the capital so we figured we should at least spend some time strolling the streets before dinner. We were really impressed with what we found including a beautiful cathedral from the late 1800s, cobblestone streets and beautifully maintained parks.

We ended the night with a beer in the historical part of town before an early night in preparation for our long train ride the following day. Our journey through Europe now continues into Hungary, tune in next time to see what we think of the Goulash soup.

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Ciao Italy

Cinque Terre
The five fishing villages that make up Cinque Terre are surrounded by some of the most breathtaking scenery in Italy and are famous for the tunneled railways and cliff side hiking trails that link them together. We arrived in the 5th Cinque Terre village, Monterosso late Thursday afternoon. After spending days absorbing all of the history that Rome and Florence had to offer it was nice to find ourselves in a town that was not so much about history and more about the food, wine and beaches.

We set of on a pre dinner stroll to explore the village famous for its lemons and anchovies and discovered that Monterosso is split into two parts the old and new linked by an underground tunnel. We were staying on the new side complete with clear blue beaches and seaside bars. The old town was noticeably different with its uniquely decorated churches and a hilltop castle overlooking town.


Coming to Cinque Terre and not hiking is like going to an Australia Day BBQ and not eating lamb so the next day we set of on the 12km blue trail that was once a mule path linking the 5 villages. The path although difficult at times with its endless stairs and narrow cliff side walkways had absolutely beautiful scenery. As we wound our way through vineyards and olive plantations we often stopped to admire the bright blue water and the distant cliff side villages.

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Less than 2 hours after leaving Monterosso we arrived in the next town Vernazza where after a short walk around town we continued our journey onto the 3rd village Corniglia. At this point we discovered that the final two sections of the hike were unfortunately closed due to a landslide. Disappointed (but also slightly relieved) we decided a large meal of carbs was in order followed with some gelato (as always). Then it was time to climb the 377 steps to the station where we caught the train back to our village Monterosso and spent the afternoon on the beach.


The town of Vernazza


The 4th fishing village Manarola

Living our fantasies
The next day we were back on the train this time heading inland to the town Parma. Most people haven’t heard of Parma and ask why bother? Well it was no accident that we ended up in this part of Italy, we had come to this town for two reasons to eat tasty food and drive a Ferrari.

The nearby town of Maranello, the birthplace of Ferrari is only 30 minutes away from Parma. We visited the museum where we learnt about the history of the Ferrari and had a look at a variety of different models including classics, racing cars and some newer makes. Just looking however wasn’t enough for Matt who decided that driving a Ferrari in Maranello wasn’t an option but a necessity so we went next door to choose a car. The F430 Spider was selected and after a very brief orientation and safety talk, he was off (unfortunately initially on the incorrect side of the road… Australian Drivers, what can you do…) Marco quickly corrected him and it wasn’t long before he had the hang off it. Driving Ferrari’s isn’t a cheap activity so 20 minutes later Matt returned looking relaxed and driving like he owned it after taking the spider for a spin on the Highway (where in Italy speed limits appear optional).

La Ferrari 2012

La Ferrari 2012

P540 Superfast Aperto used in the 1968 film 'Spirits of the Dead"

P540 Superfast Aperto used in the 1968 film ‘Spirits of the Dead”

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Cars might be Matt’s passion but cheese is Hannah’s and this was the other reason why we based ourselves in this town. As the name suggests Parma is home of Parmesan Cheese or Parmigiano Reggiano as the locals refer to it. Balsamic Vinegar and Parma Ham also originate from the area so Hannah’s “Ferrari Ride” was going to be a dinner to remember. After a short stroll around town to take in the few but beautiful sights Parma had to offer a restaurant was chosen and we sat down in anticipation for the feast ahead.

Although it might sound like a simple dinner our mouths water just thinking about this meal as it was incredibly tasty. We started with a plate of local Parma ham and cheese which was accompanied by local Salami, prosciutto and freshly baked bread complete with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The main course was beef lasagne made with spinach infused pasta for Matt and a cheesy balsamic risotto for Hannah, both washed down with ample amounts of local wine…. of course.

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Milan (Prada and The Last Supper)

The next morning we continued North for a quick one night stop in the City of Milan. When many people hear Milan fashion runways and Prada stores come to mind and although correct there are many other qualities on offer in this ever changing, modern city.

Milan’s Duomo is our favorite cathedral in the country. Construction started in 1837 with pink marble in a gothic style but as construction progressed slowly eventually gothic went ‘out of style’ as it was deemed too French and hence the plan had to be adjusted. The final touches were finally applied in the 1960’s and it was worth taking all that time. The finished product rises into the sky with extravagant detail. Complete with a gilded copper Little Madonna statue on top, the city’s traditional protector, a ceiling that appears carved but is actually painted and high above the altar is a nail said to be the one that impaled Christ’s right hand on the cross.

Down the road from the Duomo stands the church: Chiesa di santa maria delle Grazie. Hidden away on one wall of the adjoining refectory, Cenacolo Viinciano is Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. Words cannot describe what we felt when we finally laid eyes on this masterpiece. Due to the sensitive state of the mural only 30 people can view The Last Supper at one time and once inside are only allowed to spend 15 minutes. Our 15 minutes flew by and while photographs were not allowed this is one memory that will stay with us for a long time. The Last Supper is without a doubt the number one artwork that we have seen in our travels.

There is not much that could top an afternoon consisting of the milan Duomo and The Last Supper but we tried our best. Walking past endless Prada and Gucci stores we found ourselves looking down at a mosaic image of a bull with a rather absent patch where his manly appendages should appear. The legend says if you stand on the bull’s bullocks with one heel and spin three times you will be blessed with everlasting luck. Obviously we gave it go, however if we have everlasting luck is yet to be established.

Our short stay in Milan ended with the Milanese happy hour, known as aperitivo. Aperitivo is the best version of happy hour invented. Basically you pay $6 for you first drink and get access to an all you can eat buffet consisting pasta, salads, pizza, hams, cheeses and olives. Cheapest dinner ever, a backpackers dream!

Romantic Verona
The setting for the tragic love story of Romeo and Juliet is the Italian town of Verona. Thankfully our short visit wasn’t very dramatic but a rather peaceful afternoon spent strolling around the cobblestone streets and taking in the few but interesting sights on offer.

We started with the pink marble ampihitheatre built by the Romans in the 1st Century AD which these days is used as Verona’s open air opera house still used for performances. We then wandered along the streets until we arrived at Casa di Giulietta. Although Romeo and Juliet are fictional characters romantics still insist on visiting the 14th centuary house with it’s balcony that resembles the one from the play. A bronze statue of Juiliette stands out the front and supposedly if you touch her left bust it will bring you new love.

Finally when exploring Verona’s many Piazzas we stumbled across a large whale’s rib hanging high above an archway. Legend has it that the first just person to walk under the rib will cause it to fall. Matt walked under the arch several times but much to his surprise nothing happened. This was hardly surprsing as even the pope has walked underneath it.


Our time in Italy was coming to an end and what better place to spend our final two days then the city built on top of a lagoon: Venice. Our first afternoon was spent not in search of the well known sights but wandering around the narrow lanes and exploring the squares. The evening was filled with visits to the various wine bars hidden around the city to taste the local bubbly white wine, procesco.

Our final day in Italy was not to be wasted, we began with a visit to Venice’s famous St Mark’s Square with the 15th century bell tower and breathtaking Basilica di San Marco casting shadows across the numerous tourists and pigeons that congregate there. After taking some time to admire the architecture we continued on to find a gondola that would take us on a tour around the various canals and waterways of Venice. We spent an hour on the water enjoying the sunshine and the sights including the famous Rialto bridge. After this it was time for our final Italian Gelato, how depressing. Our sweet-toothes had become rather used to the daily mouthwatering hit of Italian ice cream but unfortunately all good things must come to an end.

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In keeping with that theme it seemed appropriate that we make our final meal in this delicious country count so that night we feasted on bruschetta, pasta and local wine. A brilliant way to end an amazing few weeks in what has become one of our favorite countries. Thanks for the good times Italy, we know we will be back one day soon.


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The heart of Italy

As you may have gathered from where we left off, our transition from south to central Italy had a shaky start. An error at the train statin sent us to the wrong platform and as a result, we missed the express train and ended up on a slower and slightly dodgier service to Rome. We eventually made it arriving at midnight and after a good nights sleep, we were ready to explore Italy’s capital.

Exploring Vatican City

Day 1 in Rome was spent not technically in Rome itself but in Vatican City. While we didn’t see Papa Franco, we did have a good look around his stomping ground. We started with the Vatican Museums which houses so many exhibitions that it would take you 12 years to see them all.  Having only a few hours not years we chose to follow the suggested ‘best of itinerary’ which lead us past some fantastic sculptures including a 4th Century BC bronze representation of the sun-god Apollo and an enormous basin made from a single piece of red porphyry stone.

Carved from a single block of stone

Carved from a single block of stone

Next, we visited  the four Raphael Rooms in what were the private apartments of Pope Julius II.  Painted in the early 1500s by Raphael and some of his students, the real standout was in the final room titled La Scuoala d’Atene (The school of Athens). The painting features philosophers and scholars gathered around Plato and Aristotle.  The lone figure in front of the steps is thought to be Michelangelo while the figure of Plato is said to be a portrait of Leonardo da Vinci.  Raphael also included a self-portrait in the lower right corner (he’s the second figure from the right).

Raphael's 'School of Athens'

Raphael’s ‘School of Athens’

Raphael's self portrait in the painting, he is wearing the black hat (he's clipped out in the last photo)

Raphael’s self portrait in the painting, he is wearing the black hat (he’s clipped out in the last photo)

After absorbing Raphael’s work we found ourselves in the Sistine Chapel. Painted by Michelangelo over 4 years from 1508, the 800-sq-metre ceiling is painted with frescos that represent nine scenes from the book of Genesis including “Creation of the Sun”, “Creation of Adam” and “Temptation”. The chapel’s west wall displays Michelangelo’s Last Judgement which depicts the souls of the dead being torn from their graves to face the wrath of God. This subject was chosen by Pope Paul III as a warning to Catholics to toe the line. Unfortunately, photos are not permitted in the Sistine Chapel so you will have to take our word for it, but this really is one of the most breathtaking pieces of art we have seen.

Our morning in the Vatican ended appropriately with a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica. We spent a fair amount of time exploring the elaborately decorated 15 000-sq meter interior which contains the bones of the saint himself. The walls are adorned with artwork but the 119m high dome is what really catches your eye, both inside the Basilica and when you’re outside in St Peter’s Square. Once again we have Michelangelo to thank as he was responsible for the design of the dome. After a busy morning taking in the Catholic sights, it seemed like a good time for some Gelato in the Holy City before heading back to central Rome.

St Peter's Basilica

St Peter’s Basilica

Looking up into the dome

Looking up into the dome

An afternoon stroll around classic Rome

After a morning packed with religion, art and history our afternoon was an easy one consisting of a stroll around some of Rome’s best sites including; the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona (with all it’s street artists), and a visit to the Pantheon. We also paid a visit to a very strange but interesting church the Chiesa di Santa Maria Della Concezione. From the outside it doesn’t look like much but once you enter and step down into the cemetery below the church you will find one of the most shall we say unique decorating styles in existence. Between 1528 and 1870 the Capuchin monks used the bones of 4000 of their deceased brothers to decorate the crypts. Some might describe the crypts as creepy but we think creative is a better word. It’s not often that you see femur bones used to make chandeliers. A message in the last room reads: ‘What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be. Happy holidays!’ Extremely odd, but very interesting. If you are ever Rome, this church is worth a look!

As you would expect in Italy our day ended with food: bruschetta, spaghetti carbonara and gelato, so much gelato.

The Spanish Steps

The Spanish Steps

Tossing a coin into the Trevi Fountain for good luck

Tossing a coin into the Trevi Fountain for good luck

The Pantheon

The Pantheon

More spaghetti

More spaghetti

Tasty Bruschetta

Tasty Bruschetta

Ancient Rome

The next day was one spent largely in the sun with a visit to the Colosseum first on our list. It’s no wonder that this is the number one tourist attraction in Rome not only because after nearly 2000 years and multiple earthquakes, it stills stands tall surrounded by metropolitan Rome but this is the home of the Gladiator! The arena could once hold 50 000 spectators and is known to have held events that lasted over 100 days and involved 9000 gladiators taking on 10 000 wild animals. A set of trapdoors on the floor of the arena once lead to underground chambers where the animals would be hoisted up in cages and released into the arena ready to take on their opponents.

The Colesseum

The Colosseum

Opposite the Colosseum is Palatine Hill consisting of ruins set amongst pine trees and offering fantastic views over Rome. According to legend this is where Romulus killed his twin and founded Rome in 753BC although there is no evidence to prove this. There is however evidence of human habitation dating back to the 8th century BC and Palatine Hill was once Rome’s poshest neighborhood. We made our way through the ruins admiring what was left such as a stadium, Roman baths, some houses and a palace. After this we continued into the Roman Forum which is an impressive but rather confusing set of ruins that once consisted of marble clad temples and public spaces dating from the 7th century BC. While there are lots of impressive sights such as the treasury and the Basilica di Massenzio the Temple of Julius Caesar is probably the most impressive in a historical sense as he was cremated where the temple now stands.

The Roman Forum

The Roman Forum

After spending all day in the sun we were ready for some shade so continued onto the Capitoline, the worlds oldest museum founded in 1471. A highlight of the museum is large head, hand and foot that formed part of the 12m high statue of Constantine found in the Roman Forum.

After a spending a few hours at the museum, it was dinner time and this meant pizza: Rome style. There is a debate in Italy over the origin of the Pizza, both Rome and Naples claim the title, so we had to compare the two and make our own minds up regarding which is tastier. This has sparked a debate between us as Matt thinks Rome makes a better Pizza while Hannah is all for Naples. Luckily, we still have a while to sort this domestic out as it will be months before we have access to an oven to cook one!

Our time in Rome was nearly complete but on our final day we managed to pay a visit to the Bocca dells Verita (The Mouth of Truth) a round piece of marble one used as an ancient manhole cover. Legend says if you put your hand in the carved mouth and tell a lie it will bite your hand off. Lucky for us we are honest people so our hands are still attached. We also paid a visit to the oldest bridge in Rome and the 12th century Basilica di San Clemente which was built over a 4th century church which stands over a 2nd century pa temple and a 1st century roman house. Why they continued building on top of each other is beyond us, but it does make for a fascinating visit as you descend below the foundations of the 12th century church you enter the 4th century church and down another set of steps to the temple and so on. Beneath it all you can hear a subterranean river running through a roman republic-era drain.

The Mouth of Truth

The Mouth of Truth


Finished in Rome the next day we continued onto Florence where we paid a visit to the city’s most famous landmark the Duomo with its iconic red tiled dome, bell tower and beautiful pink, white and green marble facade. A walk through town took us to the Piazza Della Signiroria with the Neptune fountain and the Palazzo Veccho or old palace of Florence with a much photographed copy of Michelangelo’s David out the front. We continued onto the Ponte Vecchio Florence’s iconic bridge which once housed the towns butcher shops but is now lined with jewelry stores selling gold. The bridge was built in 1345 and was the only one to survive the Second World War. Last stop for the day was Florence’s 16th century market place Mercato Nuovo to rub the bronze snout of II Porcellino (The Piglet). Legend says you must rub his snout to ensure a return trip to Florence. Hannah rubbed it last time she was in Florence and she came back, therefore it must work!

The Florence Duomo

The Florence Duomo

Cooking up a storm

If you haven’t realised yet we love food. In particular we love Italian food so while in Tuscany, the heart of the Italian cookbook, it seemed appropriate that we undertook a cooking class and learnt how to prepare some local cuisine. Our lesson started with a walk through the local food market whilst tasting a variety of foods such as parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar, pesto and olive oil. We also learnt some useful facts about the products and how to use them such as:

– A good balsamic vinegar that can be used on everything such as salads, meat and bread should be around 8 years old.
– Don’t cook with extra virgin olive oil as it is more expensive than other varieties and is best used drizzled on products just prior to eating.
– When it comes to parmesan cheese the older the better! Italy doesn’t tend to export parmesan that is 30+ years old but you should be able to find 24-year-old in Australia and this is the best type for you pasta!
– don’t add salt to food until its nearly cooked as it dries out the meat.

After purchasing our ingredients, we headed back to the kitchen to prepare the food. First on the agenda was tiramisu. Once this was left in the fridge to set, we turned our attention to the pasta. We started making our own dough and once it was wrapped in plastic and slowly rising we prepared some bruschetta with fresh tomatoes and plenty of olive oil. Quite hungry at this stage, we couldn’t wait so we enjoyed it immediately with some local red wine.

Once our dough was ready, it was time to get out the rolling pins. Some members of the class excelled at this stage (Matt) while to the dismay of others, chef Giovanni had to step in and assist (Hannah). Eventually, we had some dough that was ready so first made ravioli which we filled with creamy ricotta cheese. We used the rest of the dough to cut thick strips of pasta called pappardelle. The final step was the sauce. We started with a traditional Tuscan bolognese sauce for the pappardelle made with beef, pork, carrot, celery, purple onion, tomato paste and red wine. While we left this to simmer away we made a butter and sage sauce for the ravioli. After hours of slaving away in the kitchen, it was time to sit down and enjoy our creation and we certainly did just that! We can’t wait to get home and cook for you all!



The finished product

The finished product



With full bellies and light heads there was one more famous Florence attraction we had yet to set our eyes on… Michelangelo’s statue of David! Carved from a single block of marble the statue of the nude warrior was defiantly worth the visit and was a great way to finish our time in this wonderful city.

Under the Tuscan Sun

Wednesday started with a new challenge, driving in Italy. After collecting our Fiat we headed off with Matt behind the wheel, destination: Tuscany. We decided to pay a visit to Sienna first, to see it’s much talked about Duomo. This white, red and green marble cathedral was constructed in 1215 and the interior feature a marble floor decorated with 56 panels depicting historical and biblical subjects. One of the best churches in Italy.

It wasn’t long before we were back on the road heading towards a farm in nearby San Gimignano called Fattoria Poggio Alloro. This organic farm produces all their own food; that’s everything from grapes for the wine, to olives for the oil and cows for the beef. We purchased a bottle of wine and sat on the terrace taking in the breathtaking views of the Tuscan country side and watching the sun set. When dinner time came around, the hosts sat all the guests together at long tables, we were with 4 Italians visiting from Venice and a young couple from South England. The Italians didn’t speak English and vice versa so it made for an interesting night, but luckily the food helped pass the time and somehow we all understood each other. This was without a doubt the best meal of our lives! It started with bruschetta, fried bread, salami, cheeses and prosciutto, The first course was risotto served with red wine and fresh bread, second course was roast chicken with tomato salad served with white wine, desert consisted of a sweat desert wine with biscotti followed by a shot of the very Italian limoncello (a lemon flavoured italian liqour) and a true Italian espresso coffee. We went to bed with very satisfied taste buds and couldn’t sleep as our bellies were so full (or maybe it was the coffee).

View over the Tuscan country side from the farm

View over the Tuscan country side from the farm

The leaning tower of Pisa

After returning our car the next day, we made our way to the town of Pisa with one thing in mind – to see the famous leaning tower. First impressions; “man does it lean!” It was really obvious when you stood in front and looked at it straight on. We took turns posing for the compulsory pushing the tower over / holding the tower up photos before heading to the base to climb the 294 steps. We felt like we were drunk as we climbed the steps as the lean was very noticeable from the inside and you constantly find yourself leaning against the walls. The views from the top over-looking the town of Pisa were gorgeous, as they offered an endless view of terre cotta roofs.


After a busy day we had one more train to catch, this time to Cinque Terre on the Italian Rivera, where we would begin our final week in this amazing country.

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