15 June 2015

living the fairytale - Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

Once upon a time
in a land far far away
stood a white castle 
a knight in shining armour
and a princess of course...

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

Last month I visited the most photographed building in Germany - Neuschwanstein Castle, aka Germany's fairytale castle.

Over the years Neuschwanstein Castle has been the inspiration for many children's tales and films including the castle in Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty. It's also a destination that's been on my romantic travel bucket list for a long long time. And indeed the castle was a fairytale.

Constructed in the late 1800s as a retreat for King Ludwig II of Bavaria, aka the 'fairy-tale king', Neuschwanstein Castle has a interesting history that includes obsession, madness, financial woe and a drowning, which makes it all the more mysterious.

Want to visit too?
  • Neuschwanstein Castle is open to the public daily except 1 January and 24, 25, 31 December. To ensure you get to see inside book tickets in advance online here.
  • It's a bit of a walk up to the castle, so do yourself a favour and wear sensible walking shoes (you really don't want to be in heels on the muddy track).
  • Expect to be one of many. This is one of Germany's most popular tourist destinations!
  • In my opinion the best way to reach Neuschwanstein Castle is by car. It's an easy two hour drive from Munich. Don't have wheels? You can also catch a train from Munich to nearby town Fussen and then a bus to the castle.

13 June 2015

The Queen of the Hebrides, Scotland

Hello there! It's been a while hasn't it... life has been a bit full on the last two months, so much so it's kept me well away from my laptop and camera.

My biggest piece of news is that hubby and I have had a offer accepted on a house! We are going to be first time home owners in London, and I have to say I cannot wait until we are no longer paying rent. For those of you unaccustomed with the housing market in the UK the process of buying here is different to most countries. The house is not officially yours until the day you exchange keys. In our case that might be a long way off as the people we are buying off are still to find a house to move to, so we have entered the dreaded 'house buying chain'.

The photos below are courtesy of my husband who spent the last May bank holiday merrily downing drams of whiskey at the famous Islay Whiskey Festival in Scotland. I made fun of him for taking this first pic of course. I mean, we are kiwis! It's not like he's never seen a sheep before...

lush green grass
leads to murky sky 
a blackface sheep stares yonder

Islay is the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, and is known by many as the Queen of the Hebrides. Like all of the Scottish Isles, Islay boasts dramatic scenery made up of sweeping beaches and rolling hills.

In fact I was rather impressed and jealous when I first saw these photos that my husband snapped on his phone while cycling around the island.

If you're a whisky fan I would thoroughly recommend you look Islay up. There are no fewer than eight distilleries there producing some of Scotland’s finest single malts including Lagavulin, Laphroaig and Bruichladdich. I'm not a whisky drinker myself but if I was this the place I'd want to be.

Even the gorse is picturesque...

Hope you all had a lovely April and May. Any interesting travel tales out there?

29 April 2015

new passport time!
& looking back at 5 years of travel...

This month it was time to renew my passport. It's been four years and nine months since I last got a shiny new passport, and because New Zealand passports are only valid for five years, and I'm headed to Germany this weekend my time was up.

Luckily the process was smooth sailing (thanks NZ government!). I simply filled in the online form, paid the fee, uploaded a digital photograph and two days later my new passport was couriered to me at work in London. Amazing! If only my UK visa was processed so fast...

New Zealand passport
I always find renewing my passport a little bit nostalgic. I hate the fact that I can't keep using the same little book to document all my travel forever.

I'm also quite competitive when it comes to travel and make it my personal mission to try and fill every single page with stamps to the brim before my five years are up. This time round I made it to page 37 out of 50.

Here are some of my favourite passport pages from the last five years...

Five years of travel

And here's to the next five years of travel!!

27 April 2015

holiday cycling, France

There's something rather satisfying about hiring a bike and heading off at a 'lightning fast speed' (in comparison to walking) to explore a new town, city or... coastline!

TOUCH: refreshing cool sea air against my face - tousling my hair as it whips against my neck, stiff hands and fingers grip my handle bars tight with excitement, legs ache but I push on just the same, salt stings my eyes, my lips.

The Côte d'Azur, also known as the French Riviera is the perfect European destination to get in a spot of good old fashioned cycling. The coastline literally goes on and on for hundreds of miles and this area of the world is also famous for having 300 days of sunshine a year.

If you're keen on biking (like some of my friends) you can plan a whole holiday cycling from one end of the French Riviera to the other. Start in France and end in Italy - stopping at as many or few of the gorgeous little sea towns and cities along the way that take your fancy.

Or if you're like me you probably just want to hire a bike for a day and see how far along the coast you can get. Of course snacks along the way are very important...

Delicious Café Gourmand, French Riviera
One of my favourite treats in France is an indulgent Café Gourmand. Served at many restaurants and cafés - Café Gourmand is an espresso served with three small desserts. Perfect for an afternoon 'pick me up'. 

TASTE: bitter espresso, almonds and custard, sweet and silky milk chocolate sauce and rich gooey dark chocolate cake with a sprinkle of icing sugar. Cycling snacks don't get much better than this.

By the end of the day we were pretty tired and decided it was time to take a quick nap. We deserved it with all that exercise.

The important stuff:
  • Bike hire is actually pretty cheap in Nice. I paid just 14 euros for 24 hours.
  • The cycle paths are really amateur friendly in and around Nice. Clearly signposted, off the actual road and with lots of room.
  • Depending on your level of fitness and ambition you can go quite far in one day. Hubby and I cycled from Central Nice all the way to Antibes and back in just an afternoon going at quite a leisurely pace, and stopping for a three-course meal along the way.

13 April 2015

Côte d'Azur, France

From the moment I arrived in Nice, France and set foot on the pebbly beach this Easter gone I knew I had found a little slice of paradise.

London's gloomy grey clouds were banished from my thoughts as I stretched out in the warm French Côte d'Azur sunshine and fixed my eyes on the blue horizon line...

SEE: disks of gold through my eyelids, pink, blue and more blue. Sail boats glide by, seagulls circle above.

SMELL: salt, salt, salt...

HEAR: the light crash of waves a few steps from where I lie, the excited screams of children playing on the seashore, an easyJet flight zooms overhead delivering another plane full of happy holiday goers to this sparkling destination.

TOUCH: hot sunlight burning through my jeans, smooth seaside pebbles dig into my back - but I'm enjoying the heat of the sun too much to move.

TASTE: Easter chocolate, beer, water with a dash of lemon, salt.

Chilling on the beach - Cote d'Azur, Nice, Francerelaxing on the warm pebbly shores of Nice, France

Beautiful blue Cote d'Azur, Nice, Franceblue, glorious blue

The important stuff: Nice, France is just a quick 1 hour and 40 minute flight from London, and the gateway to gorgeous Côte d'Azur (aka French Riviera). Visit in the shoulder months - April, May, September and October for smaller crowds and you'll still be rewarded with glorious sunshine. It may be a bit too cold for swimming though!
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