When people think of The Netherlands, they usually think of Amsterdam and Rotterdam. However, there is a little known town called Eindhoven that is definitely worth a weekend trip. Two of my cousins live in Eindhoven and Vruchi and I flew over for the weekend to spend some time with them. We hired bicycles and explored the city and surrounds on two wheels. Not having any prior expectations about Eindhoven, we were taken aback by the lifestyle and history of this small town. The following are 4 things that you probably didn’t know about Eindhoven.
1. Philips headquarters and High Tech Campus.
Eindhoven is home to the famous technology company Philips. In fact, it was founded by Gerard Philips, in Eindhoven back in 1891. Philips research centre is located in Eindhoven’s High Tech Campus. Today, the High Tech Campus is an R&D centre and technology hub, not only within Eindhoven, but all throughout The Netherlands. Philips was actually the original driving force behind the establishment of the High Tech Campus, but now a number of technology companies have a presence on campus, including Intel, IBM and Texas Instruments. There's the Philips museum in the centre of the town if you are interested in checking out the history of lighting and Philips as a company.
2. Van Gogh Village
Eindhoven is famous for the way it has preserved the life and heritage of the famous Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh spent a major part of his life in Eindhoven and Van Gogh village is just one of many odes to the great painter. Situated in a small town called Neunen, just on the outskirts of Eindhoven, the village is a charming little part of town. An unmissable part of Neunen is, of course, the windmill De Roosdonck. The windmill was constructed in 1884 and is present in seven of the famous Vincent Van Gogh paintings.
3. Van Gogh-Roosegarde cycle path
As mentioned, we cycled around Eindhoven and its surrounds, exploring different nooks and crannies of this dutch city. Continuing on with the theme of tributes to Van Gogh, the artist Daan Roosegarde developed this 600 meter cycle path consisting of thousands of tiny little stones that glow in the dark. At night, the stones glow in the shape of Van Gogh’s famous painting Starry Night. This form of art, known as ‘techno-poetics’ is truly stunning and definitely worth checking out. (Be sure to go at night though ;) )
4. Maastricht caves
Whilst not technically in Eindhoven, it is just an hour train ride to Maastricht. In Maastricht, the thing you absolutely must do is visit St Petersburg caves. With no light, no sound, no smell and no mobile phone signal, exploring these limestone caves is no easy feat. They stretch over 80km and extend into parts of Belgium. What is more impressive is the fact that these caves are completely man-made. Over a hundred years ago, blocks were chiseled out to extract limestone for building houses, churches and even castles. Today, the caves showcase a wide variety of artwork and inscriptions that have been carved throughout hundreds of years. It is said that even Napoleon himself had once entered the caves and carved his name into the wall.
And there you have it, a short and simple weekend away in Eindhoven. :) Not a lot of people end up going to this part of Netherlands, but if you do end up there - let us know, we'd love to hear from you to see what you guys got up to.
Part 1: Winter Wonderland - What to do in the Arctic Circle. Read here
Part 2: What to weat in the Arctic cold. Read here
Part 4: Tips on spotting the Northern Lights & Camera Settings. Coming Soon
Is Kakslauttanen Resort worth the hype?
If you are planning the trip of your lifetime to the Arctic Circle, by now I'm sure you would have heard about the famous Igloo Hotel. But is it really worth it? What was our experience? And what do we recommend?
These glass igloos don't come cheap.
We stayed for 1 night in the Glass Igloo (4 pax) and paid approx 1500 euros for the entire Igloo.
Roughly 750 euros per couple for 1 night. This does include breakfast and 1 dinner. However, we wouldn't have mind the exorbitant rate had the service and quality been up to the standards. Disclaimer: May be we just got a bad 'service' weekend? But for that amount, it's hard not to have bit of expectations no matter the week.
We could write an essay about the service or lack of at Kakslauttanen but here are a few things that happened to us:
This is a small point, but the Igloos looked very cheap from the inside. Bright red carpet and zebra print bedsheets dont really yell out a romantic, cozy accommodation. But this is a side point and may not really make that much of a difference.
So, TLDR: is Kakslauttanen Igloo Hotel worth it? Should I book it?
We recommend: Wilderness Hotel Muotka
For our second night, we stayed at Hotel Muotka - another glass Igloo hotel but in a shape of a teepee, and we can safely safe - it is one of the best experiences and hotels we've ever stayed at. Or atleast in the Top 10 for sure :p
Part 1: Winter Wonderland - What to do in the Arctic Circle. Read here
Part 3: Where to stay. Is Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort worth the hype? here
Part 4: Tips on spotting the Northern Lights & Camera Settings. Coming Soon
If you are anything like Vruchi (puts the heater on even when it is 15 deg outside), chances are - you are probably a bit terrified of the Arctic Cold! But, no fear - Vruchi survived it like a boss. So here's our few tips to help you navigate the cold, so you can spend more time enjoying the beautiful landscapes that Saariselkä has to offer :) Here goes...
The best time to visit the Arctic for chances to see the lights is between November to March. We went in January. This also means it’s peak winter and it’s the coldest few months of the year. Usually the temperatures during this time range between -10 & -25 degrees. We were extremely lucky and got a warm week of temperatures ranging from -5 to -15. A week prior to our visit, temperatures were an average -30. So having the right gear is really important. Vruchi gets really cold - especially her extremities! Her toes and fingers get frozen even in relatively warmer winter climates (for example, she was dying in Slovenia and the temperature hardly went below -2 degrees). But we didn't have the right gear during our Slovenia trip - lesson learnt!
This is what Vruchi wore during the Safari activities:
Vruchi wore her own boots from Sorel (Joan of Arctic £195) but Lapland Safaris also provide you with snow boots if you don't want to buy a pair. Shankar bought his from Mountain Warehouse for £50. They weren't as fancy looking as Vruchi's but they did the job.
Shankar didn't wear these many top layers but he doesn't get as cold as Vruchi does. We wore variations of these layers without the ski suit on days we didn’t do activities.
Pro Tip 1:
For the first few days, Vruchi wore 4 thermal socks as the toes are the worst place she get cold, but a few locals I talked to said that - that many layers of socks was actually the reason why she was feeling cold. For thermal socks to work, you need a bit of room for the air to circulate. You’re actually warmer if you only wear 1 or 2 layers of socks instead of 4. She tried that advice on the last two nights and there was definitely a massive improvement.
Pro Tip 2:
If you get really cold, carry Heat Warmers pouches (the ones you can snap or expose to air and put them in your gloves). I ordered a whole box of 40 from eBay for cheap and the heat lasts for about 8-10 hours! Perfect for this weather.
Pro Tip 3:
All the hotel rooms are quite warm inside so save some space in your luggage and don’t carry fleecy night wear. You won’t need it. Normal PJs would be fine.
Winter clothes are bulky. Plus, the key is to layer - so inadvertently you'll be carrying a fair few items with you.
If you’re doing this as a long weekend trip and you don’t want to purchase check-in luggage like us, here are a few cheeky tips to avoid the pesky check-in fee and yet not sacrifice on your layers! ;)
But basically, pack smart. Don't go overboard as you can re-use the same things for multiple days as you will wear a jacket on top regardless. :)
Annnnd that's it! Hopefully that gives you a good idea on how to keep warm in extreme weathers and still enjoy your days out exploring without losing a toe or two to the cold :D
Let us know if you have other tips and tricks that can help us and our readers navigate traveling in extreme cold environments. :)
Part 1: Winter Wonderland - What to do in the Arctic Circle. Read here
Part 3: Where to stay. Is Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort worth the hype? here
Part 4: Tips on spotting the Northern Lights & Camera Settings. Coming Soon
Lots of love
Since 2010, Vruchi has been wanting to visit the "Igloo hotel" and we cannot believe we've made that come true! It was an incredible experience and not many can say they've been on a holiday to the Arctic Circle, so we are so glad and blessed that we could do this trip. :) Heading to the Arctic, although rewarding is a difficult trip - both in terms of planning for the weather as well as monetarily. It has probably been our most expensive holiday (perhaps on par or slightly less than our honeymoon. But our honeymoon was a 3 week holiday while we were only in the Arctic for 5 days!)
There's a lot to write about, so we've broken this blog post into "tips" instead! :) Here we go...
6 Tips for your Arctic Circle getaways (Finland):
Chances are if you are trekking all the way up north to the Arctic Circle, you’re going there for the Northern lights. However, the famous magical nights are a VERY rare phenomenon and despite all the posts on Instagram, don’t appear in the sky every night. Sometimes, there’s days that pass without any occurrence - so don’t expect to see the lights on your trip. Make sure you have plenty of other things you can do so you don’t get disappointed if you don’t spot them :) If you do, that’s just a cherry on the top ;)
Saariselkä is quite touristy and you’ll find plenty of winter activities to keep you busy! We recommend the husky, reindeer and snowmobile but there are definitely a few more we would have loved to try out! We highly recommend Lapland safaris for your winter activities. They were incredibly email friendly and responsive - something you value when you’re planning a trip of a lifetime! They let you also keep their winter gear for the duration of your holiday, if you book more than 1 activity with them! We didn’t wear the ski suits but definitely used their gloves on days we didn’t have any safaris planned. They also pick you up from any hotel in the region and drop you back. Not only that, they actually pick and drop you up from anywhere in the region. So if you’re planning to go to a restaurant for dinner after the activity, they would be more than glad to drop you there. It’s brilliant because taxis are very expensive!
To that point, just to give you guys an idea - a 3-4km taxi drive will cost you about €15 euros. A taxi from the centre of Saariselkä to the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort (the famous igloo hotel) will be around €40.00 (2018 Jan prices). So plan your pick up and drop off by your safari transfer services. We were changing hotels one night and we took our luggage to Lapland safaris before an activity (via their hotel pickup) and asked to be dropped to our new hotel and avoided a €45 euro hotel transfer cost! ;) cheeky but hey! Every bit of saving helps as this is quite an expensive holiday!
This was our first activity and to see real life reindeers against a beautiful snow clad background is something you only imagine in children’s Christmas books. Everything about this was absolutely gorgeous. Each sleigh carries 2 people and you get a reindeer for yourself! The entire ride is 45 mins (a lap around the reindeer farm). After which, you’re greeted in a traditional Sami teepee with a hot fire and some hot berry juice to warm your self up. The whole thing is so picturesque and we’d highly recommend doing this in the morning so you get to see the little bit of sunrise and get better photos during the day. Pro Tip: Some of the reindeers don’t have their antlers so try and choose a sleigh with a reindeer that has them so you get better photos! ;)
This is a fast paced activity and quite an adventurous one. From Saariselkä, you ride all the way to Ivalo. Once you get there, you get to go inside an actual igloo! (They remake the igloo every year!) Inside the igloo, you watch a quick video of the Northern lights and the science behind it. You’re also taken to a teepee with a warm fire and some freshly bbq-ed sausages! Yum! If you’re lucky you’ll spot the lights here or on your way back through the mountains and fields. Pro Tip: Since you ride at quite a speed, it gets REALLY windy. Make sure you have a face mask and a scarf. Also, the driver gets leg and hand warmers due to the engine, so whoever drives stays warmer. You do have a chance to swap drivers at any point you want though. :) The instructors are really nice and are always helpful if you get stuck in snow or if you’re not comfortable at any point. If you have limited days, we’d recommend doing this activity at night so you don’t waste photo days + get a chance to see the Northern lights when you head up north. ps: Look at Vruchi in the picture below, just hidden behind all those layers on her face LOL
You’re greeted with SO MANY barking and howling huskies when you get to the spot of the husky ride. They are continuously howling away while the guide teaches you how to ride and sit in the sleigh. Again, 2 people go on together - one sits in the sleigh and the other stands behind - actually riding and driving it. You'll notice that the huskies aren’t the gigantic Siberian huskies you've imagined in your head but actually mix breeds and quite small. We later learnt that they are anywhere between puppies and 6 year olds. Apparently they do love running and quite enjoy the activity and are treated really well - but you do end up feeling really bad for them as they are literally pulling your weight plus the weight of the sleigh up a mountainous track with ups and downs. On an up-hill, the driver standing behind is requested to get off and actually run and push the sleigh to help the dogs out. The dogs are also trained to look behind at you if they need help! Pro Tip: Make sure you request for 'boy dogs' and to be at the front of the pack. These are stronger huskies and you actually go quite fast. We actually did two rounds of riding and the first time had girl dogs and it was a very slow cold ride. For our second round, we got boy dogs that actually compete in racing and run 200kms a day. The second ride was amazing! Another tip: The person who is standing behind and driving is kept warmer by the running and pushing of the sleigh, so try and take turns so you stay warm. :) The dogs are also absolutely mental and follow the snowmobile driver in the front and sometimes may try and over take the sleigh in front, if you’re not the first sleigh behind the snowmobile. It does feel a bit scary when you turn back and there’s 6 barking and howling dogs just running towards you - but the dogs are really friendly and don’t really want to do anything else but run. We also got lunch afterwards - really filling soup and sandwiches and also got to play with the new born puppies during lunch. :) Was a great experience but we ended up feeling really terrible about the whole thing and wouldn't really want to do this ever again.
Are you planning your Arctic Getaway? We are more than happy to give you guys tips or chat to you about any questions you may have. Leave a comment below or reach out to us on our Instagram page @100autumns_ :)
Lots of love, S&V
Don't know what to pack for the Arctic? Read here
Following on from our wonderful time in Slovenia, Vruchi and I had planned to continue on from Lake Bled and spend the remainder of the time from Christmas until New Years in Austria. We decided to split our time between Salzburg and Vienna.
We’ve decided to structure this article into the following 4 sections:
Lets get this party started:
Getting from Lake Bled to Salzburg
We decided to devote a specific section to this because when we were trying to book tickets online between Lake Bled and Salzburg, we found there was a lack of clear information. What is not clear on both the Austrian or Slovenian rail websites is:
Countryside - Recommended road trip stops Salzburg to Vienna
Salzburg <o> Fuschl <o> Bad ischl <o> Hallstat <o> Leoben <o> Vienna - approx 4 hours 30 mins (Direct Salzburg to Vienna should take you 3 hours on the motorway)
Much like Slovenia, we did not want to confine ourselves to simply the major cities in Austria. As a way to explore the beautiful countryside that Austria has to offer, Vruchi and I decided to hire a car from Salzburg and drop it off in Vienna. This would give us time to go off-beat and explore the various towns on the way.
For those traveling in winter in Europe, one thing to keep in mind when hiring a car is to make extra sure that your car has snow tires. We got stuck in snow one morning, trying to drive up a steep driveway, and it was definitely not fun. We had to dig out snow for almost an hour before we were on our way. Pro tip: A bag of salt helps melt the slippery ice/snow and creates that friction to get the momentum to drive off.
We drove down from Salzburg to Bad Ischl via Fuschl and then down to Hallstatt. Fuschl is home to Red Bull's headquarters. Pretty impressive architecture. There's also a stunning lake near by if you are keen for a short walk.
Hallstatt is an amazing town. With picturesque snow covered mountains, atop stunning deep blue waters, you can definitely understand why this is usually a must-see destination in the Austrian countryside. However, for those wanting an amazing view of Hallstatt without the crowd of tourists, we recommend driving ahead another kilometer past Hallstatt and getting an amazing unobstructed view.
From Hallstatt, we drove down towards Leoben, before driving up to Vienna.
After arriving at Vienna, the following day we decided to venture out and head towards a small town called Linz. We decided to spend the day in Linz. Linz is not as big a city as Salzburg or Vienna, however, it definitely has its charm. From quaint little cafes and restaurants, to small family-owned bookshops, this town definitely has an authentic Austrian feel to it.
360 deg view of Vienna:
Kahlenberg hill is definitely a fair drive to the top, through steep and windy roads however the view from the top is quite spectacular. Once you reach the top, there are a few lookout points where you can get a near 360 degree view of all of gorgeous Vienna.
Food & Attractions
Hotel Sacher (Salzburg & Vienna): Be sure to try both the dessert section, serving the world famous Sachertorte, and also the dining room. Most definitely worth an afternoon visit.
Afro Cafe (Salzburg): As the name probably suggests, Afro Cafe is a funky African themed cafe, located near Hohensalzburg Castle. Be sure to get there a bit early, or book ahead, as this place is quite popular and does get packed fairly quickly.
Die Cabreras (Salzburg): Die Cabreras is a small Mexican restaurant situated just walking distance from the old town. What is unique about this restaurant is that it is decorated like someones house, with an open kitchen, some lounge chairs and dining tables. It is as if you were invited over for dinner. Try the Bomba Salsa spicy sauce. Finger licking delicious (and hot!). We even bought a bottle home.
Christmas Markets (Salzburg) : Salzburg is famous for its Christmas Markets with its origins dating to the late 15th century. Held in the heart of the city, you will find a delectable selection of foods, Christmas ornaments and all kinds of bric-a-brac.
Schönbrunn Palace (Vienna): One of the most iconic landmarks in Vienna and the most popular tourist destinations. In the 18th century, this was the home of the Habsburg emperors during the summers. Today, aside from tours of the palace, it is also used for various classical concerts. For the best view of Schönbrunn, be sure to check out the Gloriette in the gardens atop the hill right behind the palace. It is a bit of trek but well worth it.
Belvedere museum (Vienna): Located in the south eastern part of the city, the Belvedere grounds are some of the most picturesque and beautiful you will see throughout the city. There are actually two palaces (the Upper and Lower Belvedere) in these grounds, built in the early 18th century by Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt. The museums showcase a wide collection of Austrian art.
One thing that Vienna is known for during New Years is the Waltz (or actually any time of the year). At the heart of the town square, they have live classical music concerts where everyone in the audience takes part in a large waltz. Aside from this, there are a number of different spots to see the New Years fireworks. We chose to view the fireworks at City Hall square. This was a nice, family-friendly atmosphere with live music and various stalls and Christmas markets. However it was absolutely freezing!!!! Being used to Sydney fireworks and the crowd that ensues, we decided to go "early" for our spot. We were freezing our toes from 10:pm to midnight. Call us biased if you will, but for those that grew up with Sydney fireworks, nothing truly compares. Hindsight, we would have skipped the fireworks (not worth it) and headed to a party or a pub instead.
And there you have it. :)
All in all Austria was a beautiful country with some stunning natural scenery in the countryside and a rich and vibrant culture in the cities.
Danke and tschuss!
Recommend anything else in Austria? Leave us a comment below or DM us on Insta
Like the title suggests - We are absolutely in LOVE with sLOVEnia! :)
Christmas is always a magical time of year, and especially in Europe. Living in Australia all our adult lives, our experience of Christmas is on the beach, a BBQ, in shorts and dying of 40 deg heat. So whilst most people look to escape the cold during this time of year, we wanted to do the exact opposite and experience a quintessential White Christmas. And Slovenia definitely did not disappoint.
Vruchi and I landed in Ljubljana (the capital city) in the morning and picked up our hire car. For those that do not know the geography of Slovenia, it’s actually quite a tiny country that shares borders with a number of countries, including Austria in the north, Italy in the west, Hungary to it’s east and Croatia to it’s south.
We headed south towards a town called Piran. As we were driving, we became enamored with the amazing countryside. It is impossible to write an article about Slovenia without talking about how beautiful the countryside is. We kept stopping every few kilometres to take photos of the stunning surroundings. Beautiful snow covered mountains as far as the eye could see. It seemed as if we had stumbled upon a hidden gem in Europe.
As we continued driving, we started to notice some subtle changes in the landscape around us. The houses started to look slightly different, perhaps a little more orange than what we were seeing before. Also, we noticed the street signs were blue instead of green and the language started to resemble more Latin. We continued driving for another hour before we realised that we were in Italy! Thats right! Our journey that began in Ljubljana, headed for Piran, took an incredible detour and now we were deep in the heart of Trieste, Italy! Vruchi and I always wanted to cover 3 countries in 1 day, and we had just ticked that off our list! Morning in England, afternoon in Italy and evening in Slovenia! Europe is truly an incredible place.
After stopping to appreciate the beauty of Italy, we decided that we better head to Piran if we had any chance of catching the sunset. As we drove back to Slovenia, we still could not get over how incredible this part of the world was. We eventually arrived in Piran, just before the sunset. Pro-tip: We discovered that the town of Piran only allows parking for residents of the town, meaning that visitors can not park in Piran. So we had to park just outside of Piran, at a nearby carpark and walk through (about 10 mins). The view from the coast of Piran was definitely worth it. We stood at the very edge of the coast of Piran, viewing the north-west coast of Croatia, whilst watching the sunset and reflecting on the incredible day we had just had.
Over the next few days, we had continued to explore the Slovenian countryside further.
Road trip suggestion:
Our eventual destination was Lake Bled but along the way we had stopped at so many places, just because we could not get over how beautiful the countryside was. What was supposed to be a 2 hours journey from Ljubljana to Bled, took us almost an entire day as we detoured along to small towns and winding mountain ranges. From Ljubljana, we headed north to Skofja Loka, then west to Gorenja Vas and continued on to Cerkno. From Cerkno, we continued north through Jesenica, Podbrdo, and up to Bohinjska Bistrica. From there, we drove further west to Ribcev Las, before eventually arriving at Lake Bled. The views across the countryside were absolutely breathtaking.
Christmas Eve at Lake Bled
Eventually, we arrived at Lake Bled in time for Christmas Eve. In terms of the geography of the town, it is located in the Julian Alps in the northwest. The lake is the centre of the entire town, and right in the centre of the lake is a beautiful church, called Cerkev Marijinega Vnebovzetja, that sits right atop a small hill.
You can catch a ferry or kayak through to the church on the centre, which a lot of tourists there were doing.
There are beautiful views of the church from various spots around the lake. However, no doubt the most beautiful view of all of Lake Bled: can be seen from Little Osojnica Hill. Its quite a steep climb (hike?) and we definitely recommend wearing some comfortable hiking shoes for the climb (which I definitely was not wearing), but if you can put up with the trek, its an incredible view. Vruchi wasn’t wearing the best footwear for the hike so she decided to stay behind. I went forward and climbed to the top and managed to catch the last glimpses of the sunset over Lake Bled. This was an absolutely amazing view and truly worth all the effort!
In terms of the town itself, it is a small town but there are a few restaurants, bars and cafes all within walking distance of the main lake. Parking can be a bit of an issue near the lake, so we suggest parking a bit further out in the streets and walking down. Lake Bled feels a lot more touristy compared to many of the other towns that we drove through, so the restaurants, cafes and bars will invariably have more people (and a bit pricey) compared to many of the smaller towns in Slovenia.
Accommodation, Attractions & Places to Eat
We were quite pleased with our accommodation options both in Ljubljana and Lake Bled. In Ljubljana, we stayed right in the heart of the city, very close to 'Zmajski Most', commonly known as the famous 'Dragon Bridge' in Ljubljana. The dragon is seen quite a fair bit in Ljubljana and has become the symbol of Ljubljana. Legend has it that centuries ago, there lived a fire breathing dragon that lived in the marshes surrounding the Ljubljanica River and fed on fish, otters, river rats and any humans that were unfortunate enough to cross his path. This was until Jason (the founder of Ljubljana) and the Argonauts, arrived on the Llubljanica River, having fled from the King of the Black Sea. Jason heroically fought this Dragon and conquered the beast, and thereby became the official first citizen of Ljubljana.
Another key attraction of Ljubljana were the Christmas markets. They are located in Ljubljana’s Old Town, and there is a wonderful mix of food, fun and festivities that beautifully portray the charm of this wonderful town and magical time of the year. They are just a short walk from Zmajski Most so, for those driving to Ljubljana, we recommend finding an all-day parking and walking around the town.
For breakie / lunch - we drove outside of Ljubljana to a small lake side town called Zbilje. Approx 26 mins away from the city (up north), there's a small little cafe Bistro Dotik. The food isn't the greatest (mainly sweets and coffee) but the view of the lake is absolutely stunning (below). You can also feed the swans that come by in flocks and just watch the mist and fog from the lake slowly lift as the winter sun rises up. We had a beautiful morning here just taking in the natural beauty!
In Lake Bled, we stayed at a beautiful Airbnb just a few minutes drive from the lake. In terms of attractions, of course there is the church in Bled itself, however another attraction that we unfortunately did not get to see but we thoroughly recommend seeing (just based on the story itself) is the “Legend of the Sunken Bell” The backstory for this is that there once lived a young nun in Bled, whose husband was killed by thieves and his body was subsequently dumped into the lake. In an attempt to console herself, she gathered all her gold and silver and created a bell for the church on the small island in the centre of Lake Bled. However, during a terrible storm, the bell had sunk and never made it to the church. After this, the inconsolable widow sold all her belongings and left Bled. Following her death, the Pope, hearing this story and knowing of her life as a nun, decided that they would make a new bell and each year on Christmas Day, the citizens of Bled gather around this giant illuminated bell, ring the bell three times before sinking it into the river. There is also another small bell in the Church itself for tourists to ring :)
Overall, Slovenia was a beautiful place and we thoroughly recommend travelling to this part of the world. Very often, when talking about the European countryside people talk about France, Switzerland and Austria and whilst taking nothing away from those countries, there is definitely something special about Slovenia. However to truly appreciate the beauty of Slovenia, don’t simply cover the cities. Make sure you hire a car and drive out to the country side, and we have no doubt that you'll fall in love with Slovenia! :)
Are you planning a trip to Slovenia soon? Have we missed something in Slovenia that is an absolute must-see? Send us a comment below or an Instagram DM :) We would love to hear from you guys!
Lots of love S&V
When we booked our tickets to Riga, we didn't really expect anything out of this Eastern European city. Like us before this trip, If you don't know much about Latvia, it is one of the three Baltic states along with Lithuania and Estonia (omg cannot wait to go to Estonia). The great thing about having no expectations is we came to discover that, Latvia has a rich heritage and Latvians are proud of this culture. We also happened to be there during Latvia's Independence Day, so the cultural show was in full glory for us! It made for a surprisingly fun weekend and a perfect city break for the weekend.
Accommodation & Getting around
We recommend staying in Riga Old Town. It’s quite centrally located and walking distance to all the key attractions, the markets and a wide range of restaurants, pubs and clubs. Once in Old town, we didn't have to take public transport the entire weekend as everything is within walking distance. We had a gorgeous AirBnB to us right in the middle of Old Town with an exceptionally amazing host. We landed quite late on Friday night and didn't realise that this particular AirBnB had specific check-in times. Being well past the check-in times, we couldn't get hold of the host! Frantically trying to reach the host on one hand and trying to find last minute accommodation in the other we were literally waiting at the airport with no where to stay for the weekend. After about 20-30 mins, we finally got hold of our host (who happened to be away that weekend). Despite us ignoring his check-in time, he was so helpful and navigated us to his cleaners house to pick up the spare keys. Went out of his way to co-ordinate this for us at mid-night! Thank you to his cleaner too - to stay up that late waiting for strangers to show up at her doorstep!
Sites & Attractions:
The main tourist attraction in Latvia is the House of the Blackheads. It is the red building that shows up on Google images when you Google 'Riga' and is on every postcard.
Originally built as a meeting venue for German merchants and traders (Brotherhood of the Blackheads), this building has been bombed several times during the Second World War. Later re-built, it now showcases Latvia's rich history as a museum. At some brief time, it was also used as a temporary residence for the Latvian president. The entry fee is €6 - not too steep and about 40 - 60 mins would be more than enough to go through the museum. It is the iconic edifice of Riga, so you might want to take some photos outside the building. The square outside is also great for people watching as it is lined with cute cafes and bars all along the perimeter.
We also visited the local markets around Riga Old Town. These are like any other European city - but a great way to get the local arts and crafts flavour.
One thing definitely not to miss is St.Peters church. It’s an €8 entry fee but the view from the top is totally worth every cent. It’s a stunning 360 degree view of the entire city of Riga. If you can brave the winds, it is definitely a magnificent view and a chance to take some stunning photos.
Latvian Independence Day
Unbeknownst to us, it just happened to be Latvian Independence Day on the 18th Nov, the weekend we chose to visit Riga! Specifically the 99th year of Latvia’s independence from German and Russian occupation. We were in for a treat! The whole city had an electrifying atmosphere on Saturday starting with a gun salute in the morning to officially begin the day's celebrations. These were Independence Day celebrations like nothing we have ever seen before. After dinner, near the Freedom Monument, the city hosted a free rock concert with thousands and thousands of people with torch flames singing along! It almost felt cult-ish to be part of that crowd with such energy and passion!
Important monuments and buildings were also part of a light show displaying history of Latvia (almost Sydney Vivid or London Lumiere style)
To cap it off, at 9:00pm the city produced breathtaking fireworks! Pro tip: The best view of the fireworks is by the main city bridge just on the harbour. However, it does get quite crowded so aim to get there early - around 8:30pm.
Public transport is also free on the day if you need to get around. All in all, it is an absolute experience to be part of the celebrations (that go on well into the night) and if you do happen to choose Riga for a random city break - be sure to choose the weekend of the Independence Day if possible. :)
Food & Drinks
Like many Eastern European cities, bread and meat feature heavily in each meal. Latvia in particular is known for its breads, particularly Rye Bread. One particular delicacy that we tried that we thoroughly recommend is the sauerkraut soup in a bread pot. It’s common to see this dish brought out during brunch or lunch.
Another must-try Latvian drink you need to try is the Riga Black Balsam. It tastes like blackcurrant juice but its mixed with very strong vodka! It has a distinct bitter yet sweet after-taste. You'll find this drink anywhere!
It’s definitely worth checking out a hipster part of Riga near Meera Iela a.k.a. peace street - a bit further out from the city (approx 20-25 mins). There are several funky cafes and bars in that area, including one called Dad Cafe.
Food-wise, the highlight of Riga was without a doubt Restaurant Renomme at Gallery Park Hotel. It is a beautiful hotel and the menu was a delicious blend of Latvian and Southern European cuisine, It is a fine-dining experience so be sure to book prior and splash a bit of cash (Approx £120 - £150 per couple for a 3 course meal with wines). Being on the fine-dining side, the menu also has an extensive set of vegetarian-friendly options. The staff were extremely friendly and welcoming and we had a great time!
Although not Latvian in any way, one particular bar that we definitely recommend checking out is Moonshine, in the heart of old town. An American themed diner bar, filled with tributes to Rock and Roll icon Elvis Presley, the bar is buzzing every night of the week. From live music, to funky cocktails and great food, it’s a great place to check out late on a Friday or Saturday evening for a bit of dancing if you fancy!.
For our last night, we headed to an underground medieval restaurant called Rozengrals in Old town Riga. The restaurant does a brilliant job of re-creating that era in its large underground cellar / banquet-hall all lit up in candles paying attention to every detail reflecting Riga's historical charm. The food is tasty and not too overpriced and to add to the medieval magic, we were greeted with fantastic live music and service throughout. Highly recommend if you are after something different. :)
Overall we had a fantastic time in Riga and, as far as weekend trips go, we thoroughly recommend it. A weekend is the perfect amount of time to capture the essence of Riga’s rich history and vibrant culture but we would love to go back for a road trip around Latvia in the future! Furthermore, if you happen to time it around Nov 18, particularly in 2018 for the 100 year celebration, you will get to see Riga put on a show like no other. :)
Our trip to Luxembourg in November was booked back in June because of the following actions that took place one evening:
However, since June, a considerable amount has happened to make Luxembourg more significant. For those that didn't get a chance to read our Toulouse article, our good friends Neeraj and Deepti will be moving to Luxembourg this year as Deepti has accepted an amazing offer at Amazon. As a result, this trip ended up not only being a good opportunity to explore a new city, but also to scope out where our friends would be living next year.
Our weekend began with a usual Friday evening flight out of Stansted after work and arrived in Luxembourg late on Friday night. Tired from work, we went straight to our AirBnb (a Web Texi from the airport to the city was about €28 for 4 people). What we couldn't see at night, which we awoke to discover, was the incredible sea of red autumn leaves along the hills right outside our window. This would be the first of many points during the weekend where we would stop to admire how beautiful this city is. We began Saturday morning, with cooking breakfast in our Airbnb, admiring the beautiful views.
Following breakfast, we decided to venture out and explore the city. Now, Luxembourg isn't a big city and there isn't really much to do in this town. We were on our way to the city centre on what would have been a 10 min walk. However, on our way there we stumbled across a beautiful park! What was supposed to be a few photos, ended up being a half an hour worth of photoshoot! :)
The city of Luxembourg provides free bus transport on the weekends - very handy for tourists! We ventured to the town eventually and were amazed to see that the whole city surrounds a valley, right in heart of town! We had read that there is this outdoor lift that you could take to go down the valley. We tried finding the lift but kept getting lost and instead decided to walk down. Eventually we realised that there are in fact two lifts and one of them was actually quite close to our AirBnb.
Down in the valley, is where the headquarters of Amazon are situated and of-course we had to go pay the offices a visit! Its a beautiful setting for the offices as you have to walk along side a small river and go past beautiful mountains.
Other than the city centre and the valley - there isn't much to do in this tiny town so we decided to visit a friend of ours - Varun who had recently moved to Luxembourg for work as well. We went over to his place, decided to order in for dinner and made ourselves comfortable in his beautiful flat. The events that followed were without a doubt, the highlight of our trip!
We ordered Thai food from a food delivery service called FoodStix, the Luxembourg equivalent of Uber Eats or Deliveroo. We ordered around 7:30pm and were told that our food would take 45-60 minutes to arrive. By 9:30, there was still no sign of the food. Unable to get a working number for FoodStix, we called the restaurant and were told that they were waiting for FoodStix to send someone to collect the food. Patiently we waited. With our hunger and impatience growing by the minute, at 10:00pm we finally called the Thai restaurant again, and asked if we could collect the food directly. They said that it was fine by them and that they would hold our food there, but the restaurant closes to customers at 11:00pm. Pressed for time, the girls quickly got in a cab - spending €20 and got to the restaurant, only to be told that FoodStix had arrived and despite our conversation, the restaurant gave them our food. Sigh! To make matters worse, the girls arrived back to Varun's and there was still no sign of FoodStix. Ok what is going on? Eventually, by around 10:45pm FoodStix arrived with our food. We tried complaining to the driver, but everything seemed to be muddled due to the language barrier.
After our hunger subsided, we were still annoyed at the Thai restaurant over our wasted trip. We called the restaurant back and angrily asked why we just wasted €20 on a taxi, if they were just going to give FoodStix our food anyway. After a bit of back and forth, they finally agreed to reimburse us the €20, but we had to collect it from the restaurant directly before midnight, when the staff leave. I guess they thought that we wouldn't be bothered, but to their, Varun's and even our surprise, we were!!! It was the principle of it! We hopped on a free city bus and arrived at the Thai restaurant, only to be greeted with a bunch of men hanging outside ushering us inside to what they claim "the best place ever." To Vruchi & Deepti's surprise, the entire restaurant had gone from being a restaurant to suspiciously looking like a front for some 'dodgy activity'. Skimpily clad girls hung around every guy! The owner of the restaurant / brothel? walked in (in a floor length fur coat, mind you!) and said she would reimburse us the €20 on one condition - "No bad reviews on Trip Advisor." Laughing, we agreed, collected our €20 and were on our way! To be honest, it wasn't about the money, it was the principle of it!
But our adventure that night didn't end there. As we walked back from the Thai restaurant to a nearby bus stop, we were stopped in the street by a random man carrying a bag under his arm. He asked us where we were going and if we wanted anything. Not wanting to engage in a conversation with a strange man at midnight, we ignored him and started walking to the bus stop, only to find him following us to the bus stop.
We started to feel a bit uncomfortable with how closely he was lurking around us, and suspecting that he overhead where we were going, we decided to bail on the bus and catch the train. As we started walking towards the train station, we noticed him following us down the streets. Ok this was now starting to get scary! We picked up pace turning around every now and then only to see he was closing in on us too. There were hardly any people on the street and by this time, the man had followed us a good kilometre. Almost getting to a sprint now, we started to run towards the train station ahead and quickly got on the train that was waiting at the platform. The train started to move just as he was about to get in the train station. Relieved to be on the train and safely away from him, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief.
However, that didn't last long, as we saw a ticket inspector walking down the carriage. After catching free buses all day, we naively assumed that all public transport in Luxembourg was free. Certain that we would get a fine, we were laughing at the irony of the effort we took to get back €20, only to be fined. But when we explained the situation to the train guard, he let us go! An amazingly kind gesture, but also not the only point in the trip where we would be amazed at how nice everyone in this country is. And, another stroke of luck - the train happened to go in the right direction of our AirBnb too! What a night! Back at the AirBnB, we couldn't stop reliving our adventure and laughed at the craziness of it all!
The next morning, following breakfast, we decided to check out a live Jazz performance taking place next to the Natural History museum. As another example of the kindness of the people in Luxembourg, on our way there, when we missed our stop and remained unaware, the bus driver stopped the bus at a random point and walked all the way over to tell us that this was the best point to get off to get to where we were going! Luxembourg is a tiny, but beautiful country, and its physical beauty is undoubtedly matched by the genuineness of its people.
In terms of things to do and places to check out, I definitely recommend a bar called Urban and a funky cafe called Kalli Kaffe, both of which are situated in the town centre. Kalli Kaffe is particularly interesting because, in this cafe, every item, from the lamps to the artwork, you see is for sale. However, Luxembourg is not really a late night city, so be sure to have a back up plan, if you fancy a quick dinner. Ours was McDonalds unfortunately :(.
Despite Luxembourg being a small city, it is incredibly beautiful and I recommend getting lost and exploring the little laneways and alleys. It's a thoroughly gorgeous place, where every corner is a photo opportunity.
But like anywhere, a city is what you make of it and you can have an amazing adventure anywhere around the world! We had an amazing time in Luxembourg, and we have a story to tell for some time now!
When you travel, you'll invariably drift towards a particular country more often than others. For us, that is Germany.
Berlin was our third trip to Duestchland in 3 months and we absolutely cannot get enough of Germany! (Check out our Nuremberg and Munich blog posts for our other 2 trips - opens in a new window)
A very close friend of ours Sanjita and her partner (now fiancé) Dhinush were visiting London from Sydney. As part of their holiday, we traveled with them over the weekend to Berlin.
I don't know where to begin with this crazy city! If London hadn't worked out for us, we would have moved to Berlin - we love it so much!
Berlin reminds me of Melbourne with its funky graffiti filled lanes, under-ground music culture and amazing food! If Berlin was a person it would be this hipster dude with dreadlocks, wearing this weird colourful oversized jumper and skinny black jeans.
Berlin was at the centre of the war and all of us being very interested in history and especially World War 2, we visited the Reichstag, Branderberg Gate, checkpoint Charlie and of course the Berlin Wall (what remains of it at East Side Gallery).
For lunch we walked all the way from Branderberg Gate to this small pub called Georg Braeu Brauhaus on the riverside. The pub was iconically German, with its own brewery and traditional German food. The food was absolutely delicious and we washed it down with the smoothest beer we've ever had. Seriously, you need to go just for the beer! (We tried both, the dark and the light Dunkel but preferred the light).
We decided to walk to Hitlers bunker and the Jewish Memorial after lunch. An uneasy feeling sweeps over you as you walk past the uneven almost chaotic grey pillars at the Jewish memorial. We felt a bit odd about taking photos here - are we meant to smile? Not to smile? Either way, it was overwhelming to walk through this and I would highly recommend visiting the site.
On the other hand, Hitlers bunker has now been turned into a park with everyday apartment blocks around it. A small non-conspicuous sign is mounted to the side giving details about the bunker. It isn’t treated with any significance and isn’t made a big deal of. It’s really underwhelming and can be skipped if you wish!
We then headed from the centre of the town towards the East to see the last remaining sections of the Berlin Wall at the East Side Gallery.
The Wall is quite long (almost about a 2km stretch!) decorated with graffiti and artwork all the way through.
At East Side gallery, we stumbled upon this artist in a van and I was fascinated by his work. All he used was pen and acrylic sealant. I knew Natalia would appreciate his artwork and we got her his work titled “Stupid Love”. To be honest, “Love at first sight” would probably have been a better title!
After a few more photos, we headed back in town for some dinner and drinks :)
There’s a massive Turkish influence in Berlin and middle eastern street food is meant to be amazing! We had been recommended to try kebabs in Berlin by practically everyone that has been before. Perhaps, it was just our luck, but the kebab place we chose (right in the heart of Alexanderplatz), was strictly ok. I’m pretty sure we get better kebabs in Auburn!
After dinner, we headed out on an adventure to find Dr. Pongs! In 2013, Shankar and his mates had stumbled upon this bar when they were on their Euro-trip. Basically, Dr. Pongs is just a room with a ping pong table in the middle. All you do is, grab a racket, grab a drink and you play one giant game of ping pong with everyone as you walk around the table. If you miss, you sit out. Eventually it filters down to only 2 people - one of them wins and then it starts all over again. Dr. Pongs is a bit hard to find - it isn’t one of those mainstream hipster places! This is proper hipster. It is in the middle of no where with no sign on the door hidden between two apartment buildings. The only way we found the place was because someone opened the door as we were looking for it and we could hear the house music coming through for that 2 seconds whilst the door was open! It was such a crazy bar - full of graffiti, people casually smoking joints and just having a good time playing ping pong. Will definitely recommend!
The next day, we headed out to see Check-point Charlie, the American sector between East and West Berlin. We walked past an art gallery and it was fascinating to see from old photos that during the war, right opposite the gallery were the hidden offices of the S.S!
We wanted to swing past the German War Museum as Shankar on his last visit here had loved it! It is quite close to Check Point Charlie but we were all getting hungry and we decided to skip the museum to go get lunch instead.
We took a bus ride all the way to the West of the city past Tier gardens to a small quaint cafe called Wintergarden Literature House. You know me and my instagram-able cafes ;)
This cafe was an oasis in the middle of a shopping district! Just off the main road, on a quite side street, nestled between bright orange and yellow autumn trees is a beautiful restaurant! Despite being slightly cold, the sun was shining bright and we opted to sit outside in the garden. It was a leisurely afternoon spent with a bottle of white wine, tasty quinoa burgers and pumpkin soups! Highly recommended!
Before heading back to the airport, we had about an hour to kill. We headed back to Brandedberg gate and decided to sit down right in the middle of the cobbled path way and people watch! We must have started a trend - because a whole bunch of people starting to sit down and join us as well! :) We could have easily sat there until the sun went down but unfortunately had to go back to our hotel to pick up our bags and head home.
We’ve done a fair few weekend away trips now but this was the first time we both felt that a weekend in Berlin wasn’t enough! There was so much more we wanted to see and we could have easily spend another 2-3 days in the city without getting bored.
More than the city, what was amazing about this weekend away, was that we had so much fun with Sanjita and Dhinush. They are super easy to travel with and always up for anything! As I'm writing this post, I miss them and can't wait for them to move to London soon so we can do many more of these trips with them :)
Lots of love
V & S
Have you been to Berlin?
What was your favourite part? Any recommendations? Comment below and let us know :)
£22 return flights, a friends ultimate dilemma and one mans search for an authentic French croissant. Welcome to Toulouse!
Although Vruchi and I were very excited about our first trip to France since moving to the UK, we really did not know what to expect. Truth be told, this was probably the trip that we did the least research. One thing that I was especially excited for was the opportunity to try authentic French pastry. As we set off on the Friday, I was determined to find the best croissant in Toulouse.
As usual, we flew out on the Friday evening after work (#CheapAndDirtyTravels) and arrived in Toulouse late that night. We caught the metro from the airport back to our Airbnb. During the journey, our good friend Deepti was contemplating a major life decision; whether or not to accept an amazing role at Amazon, consequently leaving her friends (i.e. Us) behind in London. She decided to leave it up to fate, a Best of Three coin toss. After the first two tosses were split evenly, we gave the deciding coin flip to someone we just met on the train, an Aussie girl named Rachel. As fate would have it, the deciding flip hit the edge of a suitcase and ended up getting wedged vertically, leaving the final decision back in the hands of Deepti!!! Decisions, decisions, decisions!
As we were approaching our station, a few stops before, about 100 or so college students boarded the train. They began singing and chanting together. It was surreal. It felt like we were right in the middle of a lively crowd at a football match. This was epic! It was actually here that we learnt that one of the things Toulouse is known for is universities. There are several world renowned top universities in Toulouse, and evidently we were caught right in the middle of a college pub crawl. With our Friday night partying checked off, we arrived at our Airbnb and went straight to bed.
The next morning we got up a bit late and headed out to town. Or at least we tried to. We got about 10 metres outside our Airbnb and were greeted by some heavy rain. Without an umbrella or even a raincoat, we ran back for cover and took an uber to the town, hoping to find a good brunch spot. Pro-tip: If you can't speak French, then Google Translate is your saviour in Toulouse. We could easily communicate with our uber driver through the app :) [Dw, this isn't sponsored by Google just because Vruchi works there ;)
Unfortunately, even once getting into town, we were caught in that awkward timing between brunch and lunch, where the breakfast cafes weren't serving food anymore and the restaurants weren't serving lunch yet. We did manage to grab a coffee at Toulouse's famous La Fiancee. But not wanting to spend the rest of the afternoon starving, we grabbed some pizza at a restaurant just across the road, as we tried to plan out our day. Ok so attempt 1 of trying to find an authentic French croissant was a bit of a fail. It wasn't all bad though, the pizza was pretty good!
As we began our ad hoc research, we discovered that the other thing that Toulouse is known for is the Airbus factory. This is the factory where they manufacture the actual parts. However, we only had 20 minutes to make the final tour for the weekend and we needed to have our passports on us (which we had left in the Airbnb). We had to give this a miss unfortunately. We really didn't plan this well. Pro tip: Book your tour before hand and carry your passports with you for entry clearance.
With the weather clearing, we decided to venture out to the main town square and visit a few of Toulouse's famous churches. To be honest though, after visiting a fair few churches all around Europe now, they all start to look the same. Mother Nature decided to play its part again and we were forced to duck for cover at a nearby cafe. Ok let's make the best of a bad situation and try attempt number 2 at finding my croissant. No deal unfortunately, they only served crepes and truth be told, it was the probably the worst crepe I have had. Definitely not an authentic French crepe. Once the weather cleared, we decided to make our way towards the river and get a view of the iconic Pont Neuf bridge. On our way there, we happened to walk past a local art exhibition. We met a local photographer called Chloe and struck up a fascinating conversation with her as she told us about her journey. Inspired by her outlook on art and life, we spent the next few hours taking photos of the river watching the sunset. This was the highlight of the trip for us. We had an amazing view of the city's most beautiful landmark. Unaware of the time, we had stayed out quite late and very few restaurants were open for dinner at this time. We settled for a late night kebab dinner before heading back to our Airbnb for some board games and a good nights sleep.
:) Our good nights sleep ended up being too good, as we once again slept-in past brunch time and combined our breakfast, brunch and lunch into one meal. Please note, I strongly advise against doing this!!! We had our lunch at a local restaurant called Le Capoul. However, when we arrived we were very de-caffeinated and badly needed a coffee. We ordered our lunch but asked for our coffees to come out first and were greeted with a look of complete bewilderment from our waiter. He proceeded to explain to us that in France and Southern Europe, coffee after a meal is a common dessert option, so our pre-meal cappuccino would be the equivalent of someone ordering ice cream before their mains. Hence, you can understand his bewilderment. Meanwhile, our friend Deepti was contemplating life, London and Luxembourg. As multiple attempts at letting her fate be decided by chance had proved futile, Deepti finally made the decision to accept the Amazon role and move to Luxembourg. A massive decision and we all could not be more proud. :)
With the weather better than the day before, we decided to head out and explore the city. We began with a local merry-go-round, randomly situated in the middle of an empty park, before heading to Toulouse's botanical gardens, a beautiful sea of picturesque fauna with some lovely local market food stalls. It was a lovely way to experience some of the local culture, whilst also getting to practice our photography.
In all seriousness though, if you are planning a trip to Toulouse, I would definitely encourage you to plan ahead. Toulouse is not the kind of city where you can just land and figure out things to do. On top of that, the language barrier was probably harder than any other European city that we had been to so far. All in all, despite some poor weather and me not getting my croissant, this was definitely a fun trip and for £22 return flights, I can safely say that we had nothing Toulouse. ;)
Have you been to Toulouse before?
Let us know what you thought of the city in the comments below :)