Planning the Big Trip (part 1)

it’s just under a year since I left the Uk to return to New Zealand but before I went, I knew there were so many more places in europe I wanted to see.

The time for small trips had passed so it was time to plan the big one. We wouldn’t have jobs to rush back to, no rent to pay, family that wouldn’t mind waiting another few months to see us. The only thing holding us back was the amount of funds we could save.

We had two way to do this…

1. We could plan everything in advance. We could know where we would be two months before we went, where we would be. We could have budgeted our money to know exactly how much we could spend in each place on each day. We would have a written itinerary ready to recite when needed or

2. We could wing it. Planning day by day, keeping an eye on money, trying to keep things cheap but not missing out on experiences because of how much things cost.

Our decision was a mix of both. We started our trip at the end of summer, when people still trying to find a bargain, were holidaying in all the places we were headed to first. We knew this would be a factor and when we first started looking into where we wanted to go and places to stay, found that a lot were already being booked up.

Athens Greece

Another factor to consider was that I would be in Malta for the month of August so anything we wanted planned and booked would have to be done before I left for there. This meant lots of nights in July debating where we both dreamed of going and how realistic it was to go (“what do you mean you don’t think it would be a good idea to visit the Russia right now!”) Knowing that our first destination was going to be Greece, We booked our one way tickets to Athens in July, 2 months before we begun and started looking at hostels.

Santorini Greece

We also knew that while we were in Greece, one of Ads best mates  would be as well and considering it would be awhile till they saw each other again, that played a part in choosing where we wanted to go. We wanted to see at least 3 different Islands and so we took to the internet for advice, I found Ngaire’s blog post to be one of the most useful and she was such a source for information when I was asking. In the end we knew the three islands we would visit Santorini, Paros and Milos. We booked the ferry to Santorini but left the rest till later.

Dubrovnik CroatiaThe only other trip we booked ahead of time was a Traveltalk sail Croatia trip. This was in the hopes of having a week off planning on own own, but looking back, I wish we had just done it on our own terms. We might not have partied (I don’t think I would have minded that much) or sunbathed (I probably could have found the time on my own like in Bol) as much but we wouldn’t have been forced to skip places so that we could spend 4 nights in Split so we didn’t miss a party with other boats.

Split Croatia

Apart from that, we were pretty much on our own. We had a guide book (left behind prior by Ads sister) and an idea of what we wanted to see and as we went along places were added and taken away. There were cities that I wanted to see but didn’t work into our plans such as Berlin and places I’d never assume I’d go such as Serbia or Romania. Yes sometimes we did backtrack a bit but at the end of the day it was an experience. We spent the better part of 2 and a half months traveling and getting to see things we would have probably missed out on otherwise and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Have a look at where we got to on our travels:

Stay tuned for Part 2: How we traveled 

It’s not the size that counts but the way you use it

While I have my own list of things I want to do, so does the fiancé.

And while in Tallinn, Estonia he got to tick something off his own list. Fire a gun (or 4)

gun show

So on a cold morning, we caught a tram across the city to The Tactical Shooting Centre. It was a good thing we left early since yep, we got lost and after wandering onto a base of some sort (with men who had big guns of their own) they were thankfully able to point us in the right direction.

Arriving, we were led into a room where we were given a safety brief. Number one rule of gun handling… Don’t point it at yourself or others..

shooting tallinn target practise

We got the basic package which consisted of 4 different guns, a pistol (which Ad was better at using), a revolver (that was my favourite), a pump action shot gun and a desert eagle (supposedly the most powerful pistol in the world).

revolver tallinn Shotgun tallinn

Was it fun? Yes Would I do it again? for 50euros probably not, but like I said it was fun andit was an experience and that’s the main point. And I figure with all the chocolate factories and other random excursions I dragged Ad to during our trip, I should at least do something he wanted.

Ad (left) Mine (right) His was done with the assistance of a laser pointer

Ad (left) Mine (right)
His was done with the assistance of a laser pointer

We organised this excusion by emailing in advance and booking a time but you can find them at

Shooting range in Tallinn
Taktikalise laskmise keskus OÜ
Kopli 103, 11711 Tallinn

 

Let’s just pretend its Christmas time all year round in Tallinn, Estonia 

If there was a prize for most quintessential Christmas town, I think Tallinn, Estonia’s old town would win.

Tallinn, Estonia night

The narrow cobble stone streets, lined either side by brick buildings, set the scene for a magical 4 day trip. All that was missing was the snow. Though we stayed outside of the old town, that first entrance, through the imposing city gates left their mark.

Tallinn City Gates

Tallinn did feel rather touristy in the old town at times, with a few streets lined with souvenir stand and shops, but once you got passed them you could see why Tallinn is such a magical place to visit. 

Tallinn Alleyways Tallinn Roads

From the Main Square and it’s town hall,  surrounded by even more amazing looking buildings, to Tallinn’s Parliamentary building watching from above. You can walk through the town and see Fat Margaret (once part of the city walls, now the maritime museum) The old city walls remain giving you an even bigger sense that you could be in a different time or place while here.

Tallinn Harbour Tallinn Paul bird

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral Tallinn At Night in Tallinn munga Kelder

Tallinn was the one country I wanted to go to to visit Christmas Markets. We missed out by a matter of days but were lucky enough to see them erect the Christmas tree in the Main Square.

Tallinn streets Tallinn St Catherines Passage Tallinn Christmas

What to do in Vilnius, Lithuania

One of the hardest things when traveling is deciding where to go and what places to see.

If you’re anything like me, then it’s easy when you set yourself a challenge. Mine? Visit all the countries I could ending with ia. I’ve been to Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, and Romania, to name a few.

So when it came to where to head next after Poland, the answer was three countries in a row all ending with ia. Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia (I did try and convince Ad to go to Russia to add another one in but we wouldn’t have been able to get a visa in time.)

We were actually in Warsaw when we caught a night bus, (which came with in-seat entertainment and free wifi for  14pounds each) to Vilnius, Lithuania.

We were woken at 6.30 in the morning (not that it was much of a sleep with the guy snoring behind us)  to be told we were almost at our destination. Something else important to note is that like most of the countries we had visited on our trip, Lithuania had a currency all of it’s own. This meant that just as we tried to board a bus into Vilnius old town, we realised we didn’t have money to pay. We also couldn’t find an ATM anywhere close by and no supermarket or shop was willing to let us get cash out, so we did what any person would have done in our situation… Hopped on and prayed there wouldn’t be any ticket inspectors on our journey. We got lucky this time…

After dropping our bags at our hostel, we headed towards the old town.

While you’re in Vilnius, there are a few things I’d recommend you see/do

Walk!

Especially in the old town. Start in front of the town hall and walk. Follow the winding streets. See how many churches you can spot or even how many gates.

Climb to the top of the Upper Castle to have a look at the modern city,

But don’t forget to turn around and see the past as well.

Vilnius

St annes church

Gediminas' Tower

Vilnius upper castle

Vilnius Upper Casstle

Visit the Doctor

Zemach Shabad was the inspiration behind the story book character Doctor Aybolit (or in English “Doctor Ouch, It Hurts”)  He looked after the small children in Vilnius without expecting anything back from them.image

LEarn about money

One of my favourite things we did in Belgrade was visit the National Bank, so  when I heard Vilnius had its own one it was quickly added to the list of things to do.

As you enter the telephone rings and you are welcomed into the museum by a voice at the other end (not in English I should mention). There is surrency from all over the world as well as a history of bartering and how money came about. And then after you read all the information you can play the quiz game where if you get over 70% you get to have your photo taken and printed on money (or if you’re impatient like me, just go straight to the quiz and guess). The added challenge makes it even better.

Ring, Ring...

Ring, Ring…

money museum vilnius

Eat

After 3 months of travelling we were getting rather tired of pasta and soup packets… Cue Boom Burgers and one of the best burger I think I’ve had. I mean look at the cheese!!  And to top it off I could even get a cider with it that wasn’t Somersby! The burger was cheap ( about 6euros) and you had to buy fries separately  to go with them but they were about 2euros for a portion. Just the sound of the dessert menu made my mouth drool but by the time I manage d to finish my burger I couldn’t eat a single bite more!

wpid-20141106_191316.jpg

Have you been to Vilnius before? What would you recommend people do?

Beyond the walls of Krakow

One of the things I looked forward to most about visiting Krakow was the history that the city had access to (common theme or what?)

But it’s a city whose history lies not just within its walls but also outside them.

We decided the best way to explore the history outside the walls, more specifically the Jewish history, was to join in with a walking tour. Freewalkingtours.com was who we chose to go with and they had a tour that went at 1.30pm everyday. The tour was rather busy, and the groups ended up splitting into three smaller groups.

It was a 10minute walk to Kazimierz, a place which was once a thriving town in its own right but became the Jewish Quarter, and from there the tour begins.

Krakow sunset

You hear about how Kazimierz was built up to become a town with a thriving Jewish Community, how it changed due to World War two and are told stories of the buildings and people that were there especially during World War two.

Krakow Bridge

You are told about the places to hang out in that area (we had a drink at Alchemia, with its Narnia inspired wardrobe), food to eat  (especially after a night out)  and have some street art pointed out (which you can do another tour of if you want to see more)

Krakow street art

The last remaining wall of Krakows Jewish Ghetto

The last remaining wall of Krakows Jewish Ghetto

This was the train station before Krakows Jews were sent to concentration camps. The chairs were there as a reminder of the furniture left behind by those who thought the were leaving for a better life

This was the train station before Krakows Jews were sent to concentration camps. The chairs were there as a reminder of the furniture left behind by those who thought the were leaving for a better life

Oskar Schindler's Factory.  I found his true story one of the most interesting parts

Oskar Schindler’s Factory. I found his true story one of the most interesting parts

It was good for an afternoon and we definitely learned things we probably wouldn’t have otherwise. Yes you could probably do it on your own, but I find that sometimes it’s nice to hear the stories of others rather then just reading from another guide book.

Jenna

 

Within these city walls lie…

Europe is full of old cities, surrounded by city walls. So what makes Krakow, Poland so special?

Is it St Mary’s Basilica in the Main Market Square?Krakow Main Market square, St Marys Basilica

Not only with its legend of two brothers competing to build the biggest and best tower, a tale filled with jealousy, a stabbing (the knife used is still found within the market place) and a suicide. Or the hourly trumpeter playing from the top of the tallest tower, who ends his song in the middle, a tradition dating back to the 13th century when the trumpeter playing was shot in the throat while sounding an alarm.

Is it Krakow Cloth Hall, standing in the center of the Main Market Square, whose halls you can walk while browsing the stalls for trinkets and souvenirs ?

Krakow Main Market square, cloth hall

Or Wawel Castle with its mishmash of architectural styles and features.

Wawel Castle

Or this fire breathing dragon that guards it?

Krakow Dragon

Maybe it’s all the history that’s contained within the walls, not just from the above monuments but from the Old Town remaining almost untouched during World War 2,

Krakow

No matter what it is that has drawn you to it initially. Krakow, Poland is a city that needs to be discovered.

Here’s to Prague. City of beer, bridges and John Lennon

Our plan after Romania was to fly into Prague, Czech Republic and spend 3nights there.
We flew in early Sunday morning, and after having to wait an hour before we could check into our apartment and dump our bags we were finally ready to go exploring.
Our apartment was a 20minute walk from the old town but along the way we passed the dancing house, bridges and some curious artwork.

After a week in Romania where there were few tourists, walking across Charles Bridge was overwhelming. No matter where you walked, it felt like there was someone there, we quickly escaped and after the one time walking across we didn’t cross again but found less occupied bridges further up or down the river (which tended to work out better especially for photos since the you could get the Charles bridge in.)

See what I mean...

See what I mean…

We decided to focus on one side of the river at a time and the first day was spent in old town.

Prague old square

Adam and Eve towers in prague

image

There is a free walking tour for this side of the river. I found it extremely slow moving and there was an unneeded stop in the middle which was pretty much a sales pitch for their other tours. It did explain the astronomical clock more, which up until that point I had felt was a big let down.

River in Prague

Looking towards Prague Castle

Back across the river, Prague Castle has the largest grounds of any castle in the world and they are definitely worth seeing. Since we’re so cheap we didn’t actually pay to go into any of the buildings but were quite content strolling the grounds. It also happened that the day we went was the day that the were giving Nicholas Winton the Order of the White Lion for his effort in saving 669 Czech children during World War Two. This meant there was added security and a few of the buildings were closed.

John Lennon wall
Our last stop of the day was one I had heard about. But didn’t really know what to expect. We followed the maze of streets from the castles towards the river and finally we found it, the John Lennon wall.
At this point we were suppose to pack up and head to our next location but then I got some news… A friend from New Zealand who I hadn’t seen in 4 years was going to be in Prague the next day! This called for one more night in Prague.