Gone cuckoo

We drove from Füssen to the oh so charming town of Lindau on Monday 30 September and spent a few hours exploring the tiny island in the afternoon.

We caught a glimpse of Switzerland across the misty waters of Lake Constance and took in the Bavarian lion monument and lighthouse at the entrance to the harbour.

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In the evening we indulged in mouthwatering steak, grilled chicken, giant baked potatoes smothered in chive cream sauce and lightly dressed salad at Wissingers. Oh my was it delicious!

From Lindau we skimmed the eastern shore of Lake Constance to arrive at Birnau’s gorgeous baroque church.

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After exploring the surrounding vineyard we continued along windy back roads through rolling hills and misty vales to Villingen.

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We stopped for lunch in the medieval town before taking in more dreamy scenery on lanes bristling with firs and pines between Villingen and Vöhrenbach.

From Vöhrenbach, picturesquely tucked into the folds of the countryside, we shadowed the gurgling Breg to Urach where we travelled via a tiny country road to arrive at our final destination for the day, Freiburg.

We set out to explore the vibrant university town in the evening and were careful not to slip into the Bächle – the permanently flowing rivulets that run along the footpath. It’s said that if you fall into one you’ll marry a Freiburger or a Freiburgerin and we weren’t willing to risk our marriage before we’d even said ‘I do’!

We zigzagged our way up to Schauinsland on Wednesday and were treated to knockout views of the Rhine Valley and Alps at the summit.

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After a quick walk around Todtnau waterfall we continued on our way to Furtwangen and its (surprisingly) fascinating German clock museum. Boasting more than 8,000 items I literally lost track of time (pardon the pun) learning all about the history of time keeping and clock making.

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We ended the day back at our hotel in Freiburg and settled in for a quiet night of tea, beer and Black Jack.

Fantasyland

We drove from Munich to Füssen in our luxe Audi A1 on Saturday 28 September and joined the locals for a stein in the evening before dinner at a cosy restaurant.

After an early Skype call with Ed’s parents on Sunday morning we donned our winter woolies and followed our inbuilt GPS to Neuschwanstein Castle, reputedly the inspiration for Disney’s Fantasyland Castle.

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Our entrance time to the castle was 3:05pm and we whiled away the time with a stroll around a nearby lake.

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After lunch we wound our way up the hill to the entrance point where, unfortunately, the visibility was much the same as I experienced some 12 years ago.

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What we saw …

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What we had hoped to see …

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Our tour commenced at 3:05 on the dot (hats off to German efficiency!) and lasted approximately 30 minutes. Highlights included the beautifully decorated Throne Hall, King Ludvig II’s extravagant bed chambers, an illuminated grotto and the Singers’ Hall.

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The castle provided a fascinating glimpse into the romantic king’s state of mind (or lack thereof) and reflected his twin obsessions – swans and Wagnerian operas.

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In the evening we returned to an Italian restaurant for delicious bruschetta and hearty vegetable soup.

A toast to cheer and good times!

We took a six hour train ride from Ljubljana to Munich on Thursday 26 September and were greeted at the station by my beautiful ‘great cousin’ (my dad’s mum’s brother’s daughter’s daughter).

Tanja was our tour guide for the afternoon and took us to see characters dance around the glockenspiel (carillon) at Neues Rathaus before a stroll in the Residenz gardens.

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We ate dinner at Max Pett, Tanja’s favourite vegan restaurant in Munich, and the food was delicious! No animals were harmed in the making of our meals and even Ed enjoyed his tofu!

We woke up early Friday morning and quickly dressed / squeezed into our dirndl / lederhosen in preparation for a day of bier, wurst and gemütlichkeit (cheer and good times) at Oktoberfest!

Tanja picked us up at 9am and recommended a traditional German breakfast to line our stomachs for the festival. She also advised that I tie my dirndl on my right hip, rather than at my back, to indicate that I was no longer a ‘single lady’. What would we do without her?

After breakfast we joined the zillions of Bavarian wannabes and traditionalists on a pilgrimage to the Theresienwiese grounds where the beers were already flowing.

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We arrived at the grounds and passed countless stores filled with gingerbread, chocolate dipped fruit, sugar coated nuts and other fructose filled temptations on our way to the hangar sized beer ‘tents’ / halls. It’s hard to believe they’re not permanent structures!

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Ed made the sensible decision to try a couple of wild rides and roller coasters before his first stein but unfortunately his lederhosen weren’t quite up for the challenge and he tore a hole in his crotch on the first ride of the day! More room for beer, I say!

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Keen to get in the swing of things Ed purchased a wurst and a pink ‘ich liebe dich’ (‘I love you’) gingerbread for me before we entered the Löwenbräu beer tent for a stein (or two)!

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Tanja managed to nab us great seats on the first floor balcony and promptly ordered our first round. We swayed along to ‘Ein Prosit Der Gemütlichkeit’ and chugged our beers on eins, zwei, drei, g’suffa!

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Our vantage point provided great people watching opportunities – big bosomed wenches carried up to 11 steins of beer and platters of roast chicken through the crowd, girls (and one guy!) in dirndls joined the band on stage and the somewhat inebriated masses cheered on as people stood on benches to down their stein in one go!

I managed to drink a whole stein (my first ever!) and was thankful when a fellow beer drinker offered their pretzel after my final chug to soak up some of the beer.

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After lunch we ventured out to explore the grounds and some of the other beer tents. Without a reservation it proved impossible to find a seat so we took a spin on a roller coaster, ate another wurst and made a start on my gingerbread before heading home.

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Oktoberfest 2013 – 6.7 million steins of beer!
Kate – 1 stein of beer! Boom tick!

From SloveNIA with LOVE

We braced ourselves for narrow roads and a series of hairpin turns between Postojna and Lake Bohinj on Saturday 21 September with Google maps and a few packets of chewing gum in hand.

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Despite occasional profanities, sighs of relief and nervous giggles (on my part), we arrived safely at our destination in the early evening and rewarded ourselves with hot tea and a stiff drink!

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Before checking in we took a quick spin around the lake and gushed over its clear, turquoise waters.

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We were upgraded to a fantastic ground floor room and recommended dinner at Hotel Center where we shared a delicious wood fired pizza.

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I woke up on Sunday morning with a very snuffly nose and caught up on some R&R before venturing out for a walk with Ed mid-morning.

We parked our car at the entrance to the Voje Valley and walked along the beautiful Mostnica stream towards the Mostnica slap (waterfall) and a welcoming inn for lunch.

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Just before arriving at the inn the trail opened up into a stunning meadow where we played with the incredibly tame cows and admired the surrounding mountains.

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After a hearty lunch of mushroom soup, wurst, sauerkraut and boiled potatoes we returned to our car and were smacked in the face with a whopping great big €100 fine on our windscreen!

Determined not to let the fine ruin our day, we returned home, played a few games of Five Crowns and Yahtzee and dined at Hotel Center once more for dinner.

We showed the fine to our hosts at breakfast on Monday morning and were over the moon to find that it was actually just a warning and we wouldn’t have to pay a cent! Thank goodness and lesson learnt – park ONLY in designated parking bays in Slovenia!

After breakfast Ed set off for a rafting adventure and I for a walk around Lake Bohinj.

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Three hours, thousands of steps and countless photo opportunities later, I returned home and resolved never to leave Slovenia. How could you? It’s just so ridiculously beautiful!

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In the evening we shared a couple of drinks by the bridge at Ribčev Laz and took photos before the sun disappeared behind the mountains.

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On Tuesday morning we returned to the lake for one last walk before driving to the heart of the Triglav National Park to visit the Savica slap (waterfall).

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Tired in the hips from a few days of bush walking I battled my way to the top of the hill and was rewarded with views over the two part waterfall, shaped like the letter ‘A’.

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We continued along the road to Bled in the afternoon and ate lunch by the picture perfect lake.

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We spent the evening relaxing in the garden at our quaint B&B and Ed capped off the day with an 80 minute massage at a nearby wellness center.

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It was Ed who woke up unwell on Wednesday morning so we spent a few hours indoors before making a quick trip up to Bled Castle for some sightseeing.

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Perched atop a 100m high cliff the castle boasted gorgeous views out to the Church of Assumption on an island in the middle of Lake Bled.

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I spent the afternoon walking around town and returned home with a care package for Ed including chicken noodle soup and dry biscuits. Apparently I’m going to be a great mum!

It was my turn to indulge in some pampering in the evening and 80 minutes and €51 later I was well and truly relaxed.

SloveNIA I LOVE you. I do, I do!

Subterranean Slovenia

We said goodbye to Venice on Friday 20 September and crossed the border to Ljubljana in Slovenia via shuttle bus in the afternoon.

We found Sixt Car Hire at the train station and loaded our bags into the boot before preparing ourselves mentally and physically for driving on the wrong / right hand side of the road.

Ed breezed out of the parking lot and despite a few close calls to the curb on my side we were on our way.

We arrived in Postojna just before dinner and after successfully reversing the car into an undercover car park we settled down for a €10 half board at our hotel. My fish came out with their heads still attached which was a bit disconcerting but the mushroom soup and salad bar were both amazing.

On Saturday we set out to explore the queen of all caves, Postojnska Jama.

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Our tour commenced with a 2km underground train ride through enchanting halls, magnificent underground arches and thrillingly narrow tunnels.

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We disembarked the train at the Great Mountain, filled with more stalactites and stalagmites than I could count or had ever seen before.

Thankful for Ed’s winter jacket in the 10 degrees Celsius cave, we then joined a walking tour of the Beautiful Caves, consisting of the Spaghetti Hall, White Hall and Red Hall, each unique, distinctive and insanely beautiful.

White, needle thin, transparent tubes hung from the ceiling in the Spaghetti Hall.

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The White Hall boasted pure stalactites with almost no admixtures.

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The stalactites in the Red Hall were coloured by iron and clay.

Calcite curtains lined the entranceway to the Concert Hall which can accommodate several thousand people at a time and provides great, albeit humid, acoustics.

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The Concert Hall marked the end of our tour and we went in search of some eyeless salamanders (‘human fish’) before returning to our car and driving north to Lake Bohinj in the afternoon.

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The floating city

We took a series of buses from Positano to Naples airport on Tuesday 17 September and flew across Italy to Venice in the afternoon. We stayed just outside Venice that night and were up early the following morning to visit the floating city.

Created on a series of barene (mud banks) in a lagoon, Venice is truly unique. In place of streets and cars Venice has canals, gondolas and vaporetti (water buses). We took the latter down the Grand Canal to the Rialto Bridge and marveled at the architecture of the buildings and palaces along the way.

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Facades may have faded and foundations rotted, yet the canal remains, in the words of the French ambassador in 1495, ‘the most beautiful street in the world’.

We dragged our bags from the Rialto Bridge through narrow calli (alleyways) to our exquisite FOUR STAR hotel.

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Despite using a map and phone to navigate we managed to get lost a couple of times. As we later discovered, that’s half the fun of the place!

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After checking in we travelled past Versace, Gucci and a host of other chi chi stores to arrive at tourist and pigeon filled Piazza San Marco.

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Keen to get our bearings we continued past the glittering Basilica di San Marco and the official residence of the doges (Venetian rulers) to take in Canale di San Marco and Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore.

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We ate lunch by the Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs, named after the sighs of prisoners being led across it to face trial) and explored the back lanes of the Castello district in the afternoon.

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It was here that we got a glimpse of Venice’s beguiling and melancholic nature and it brought out the artist in me.

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We dressed to impress for dinner at Hosteria Al Vecio Bragosso and indulged in spectacular seafood linguine, carbonara with bacon and mushrooms and tiramisu for dessert.

After dinner we had a flutter at the Casino di Venezia and Ed played the tables beautifully walking out with an extra €30 in his pocket at the end of the night.

On Thursday morning we returned to Piazza San Marco to take in the striking basilica. Sporting luminous mosaics and lavish marble work, the basilica was originally built to house the remains of St Mark.

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We walked across little wooden bridges to enter the basilica over floodwaters and took in the beautifully embellished interior from all angles.

In the afternoon we explored Dorsoduro and took a vaporetto to the home of Venetian glass, Murano. We got a behind the scenes look at production before taking in shop after shop of brightly coloured and intricate glassware.

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In the evening we returned to Hosteria Al Vecio Bragosso for a bottle of prosecco and more delicious pasta.

A note from Ed – Il Mezzogiorno

We took a train from Rome to Sorrento on Thursday 12 September and were shown to our shuttle bus pickup point by a friendly non-English speaking local.

Our driver pointed out the main sights, lemon groves, olive trees and vineyards as we wound our way up the hill to Hotel Il Nido which sat high above the town. After checking in we sat out on the hotel balcony for a drink with beautiful views over Sorrento, Naples Bay, Mount Vesuvius and the Isle of Capri.

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We ate dinner at the hotel restaurant and ended the night with limoncello made by the owner’s Mamma. It was sweet, strong and finished the meal beautifully.

Friday 13 is deemed unlucky by some but this one was nothing but grand. The day started with one of the best breakfast spreads to date which we enjoyed thoroughly before heading out to Pompeii.

Our 69 year old tour guide had 43 years’ experience among the ruins so we figured we were in good hands. He led us around the fascinating and extremely well preserved 2,000 year old site, frozen in time when Mount Vesuvius erupted on 24 August AD79. It was a special place much like Ancient Rome and our guide added a lot to the experience with his stories and personality.

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Highlights included body casts made by injecting liquid plaster into the cavities left in the ash by decayed bodies, takeaway / fast food stores, Roman Baths and the Amphitheatre.

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We travelled back to Sorrento in the afternoon and headed straight to the gelato shop that had won Kate over on her last trip. A picture of the last Pope eating there confirmed its standing as the best in Sorrento. The only issue was choosing which flavours to try of the dozens on offer.

After a stroll around town we returned to our hotel for a drink on the balcony and were treated to the best sunset imaginable.

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It was truly spectacular and the sky continued to change for the best part of an hour.

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On Saturday we took a boat to the Isle of Capri where the rich and famous go to play.

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On arrival we boarded a smaller boat for a tour around the island.

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The White Grotto and Green Grotto showcased some of the island’s magnificent aqua blue waters and we decided to give the Blue Grotto a miss after finding out it was going to be a minimum two hour wait.

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Our guide pointed out the expensive houses and hotels on the island but his best description was of the cliff top restaurant where you eat for one and pay for ten.

After the tour we climbed up the hill to Capri and had lunch in a restaurant that boasted views of the Mediterranean. As we shared a pizza we also managed to eat for two and pay for one.

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We spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring the town centre and its chic cafés and shops, including a back to school Dolce & Gabbana store. An enormous ferry took us back to Sorrento and I made one more stop at the gelato shop before we returned to our hotel for our last limoncello on the balcony.

On Sunday morning we took a bus to Positano on a road that hugged the cliffs and overhung them at times. After missing our stop we contemplated walking but made the sensible decision to grab a passing taxi instead. We watched the fare on the meter rise faster than our car up the hill and at one point we thought we were headed for €100. Thankfully it stopped at €35.

Our room at Le Ghiande was really nice with a balcony overlooking the town and out to sea. Our host recommended a nearby restaurant for lunch and we enjoyed great food, service and complementary sorbet at the end of our meal.

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We met a honeymooning couple from Seattle in the evening and they joined us on our balcony for a few drinks. They were hilarious and had many similar travel experiences to us. We spent a few hours together before they left for dinner at Trattoria La Tagliata which came highly recommended. Still full from lunch, we stayed in for an easy dinner and enjoyed the view from our balcony until it disappeared into the night.

After breakfast on Monday we set off down the 1,656 steps from Montepertuso to Positano. Had we climbed them the previous day we would have climbed over 1,000 steps with our suitcases it was then I realised the taxi would have been good value at €200!

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We sat on the beach for a little while watching the waves crash against the black sand before browsing the shops in town. We covered the tiny town quickly and walked back up the hill in the afternoon to burn calories in advance of dinner.

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We dressed up for dinner at Trattoria La Tagliata and were greeted by the owner at the door. He welcomed us into his home, showed us to our seats and told us he loved us.

It was a set menu with six entrées, four pastas, eight cuts of meat with salad and fries, three desserts, all you could drink wine and limoncello. We put our best foot forward but were simply outplayed not able to finish the meat or desserts. The highlight was Mamma’s pasta!

Barely able to move we made our way back down the hill to our B&B and passed out in a food coma at the end of the night.