Friday, 15 July 2016

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Stuttgart Christmas Market

Stuttgart Christmas Market

Amazing food and the BEST Fanta in the world

Stuttgart Christmas Market

Dampfnudel at the Stuttgart Christmas Market

Stuttgart Christmas Market

Stuttgart Christmas Market

Inside a Stuttgart mall

STUTTGART & ROTHENBURG OB DER TAUBER, GERMANY - November 30 - December 6, 2015

My first week in Germany took a lot of getting used to - driving on different sides of the road meant looking really carefully before crossing a road, the language barrier, the completely different hours of daylight (sunrise was around 9am and dusk was around 3.30pm), the grey tones of winter (this made my photography very challenging) but with Helga's help, it was fun and I learnt so much from her and her family.

It was very kind of Helga and her husband Klaus to let me stay with them and I felt really at home with them. I loved the complete change; I live on a small acreage in the countryside of South Australia in a cottage and they live in an apartment up many stairs.  Whilst I look out of my windows at home at eucalypts and my pet sheep, their balcony overlooked the beautiful city of Stuttgart. It was a lot to take in all at once and I found myself smiling constantly.

My favourite memories are of the architecture of such an old city and the incredibly delicious aromas from bakeries and the Christmas Markets. I loved walking toward the Christmas Markets and the subsequent moments when you could smell too many divine aromas to count. Blissful! The Christmas Markets are absolutely stunning and everyone there is happy with such a Festive spirit.

It was a dream of mine to see a German Christmas Market one day and I was lucky to see many but Stuttgart's was my first and I will always hold that one closest to my heart. Helga and I had so much fun looking at the delicate decorations and the assortment of food and drinks. I still smile when I think of so many things from that first visit, especially seeing my first ever ice-skating rink which was so pretty, and perhaps my favourite dessert of my European trip - dampfnudel with vanilla sauce. Oh my, so soft and fluffy and warming! Delicious! I can't wait to try to make dampfnudel myself this winter as it will take me right back to those days in Germany.

It was simply magical to see a proper German Christmas Market. It was so beautiful in so many ways. The lighting, the aromas, the music, the chatter of happy, festive people, the stalls laden with such a vast array of goodies of so many things that I wanted to take back to Australia... Incredible. The food stalls were so tempting as was the gluhwein.

With full bellies and huge smiles we would go home after a few hours at the markets and be completely immersed in the Christmas Spirit. It really is something to experience. A dream come true for me, and one of many to come.

Helga spent the week showing me around Stuttgart and I soon fell in love with the city of the South and indeed with Germany for the next day I was in for a huge surprise - Helga and Klaus were taking my son and I for a drive to Bavaria to see the fairytale town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

To be continued...

Stuttgart has amazing churches
Helga was married in this church
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Monday, 11 July 2016

Adventures are the best way to learn.

The cafe' in Dusseldorf Airport where we  indulged in a tasty German beer...

...and a wonderful late lunch! Delicious!


Around eight hours after leaving Dubai we arrived in Dusseldorf. We were ecstatic to get off our second Emirates flight and have a stopover of almost four hours before boarding an Air Berlin flight for our very short flight to Stuttgart.

We didn't leave the airport while we were at Dusseldorf (we were really just enjoying being out of a plane after twenty plus hours of flying!) but were really impressed with it. It didn't take too long to get through customs on our entry into Germany, and the cafe we went to was amazing! Such a great array of food and beverages and at such very reasonable prices. As a bonus, the Smoking Lounge in Dusseldorf Airport was the complete opposite of the one in Dubai. Even a non-smoker could sit in there and breathe.

I was beyond happy to be in Germany and knew it was only a matter of short hours before we arrived in Stuttgart which was to be the real start of our holiday. I was going to stay with my friend Helga in Stuttgart, and Matt (my son) had booked a hostel room in Stuttgart. He had friends to meet up with and I was fortunate to have Helga planning to show me around her home city as she had taken a week of holidays to do so.

Helga had visited me in Australia a few times so it was wonderful to meet her and her husband, Klaus at the Stuttgart Airport. They took us back to their home for a delicious dinner before dropping my son off at the hostel. Though exhausted from the long day of travelling, I managed to stay awake until a reasonable time to get my body clock reset to European time. It worked. I slept well and woke up the next day with very minimal jetlag.

Our holiday was really about to begin!

About to land in Stuttgart - almost sunset on Sunday 29th November, 2015. 

The beautiful nativity scene at Stuttgart Airport.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

When you are lost, go find yourself.

A snapshot while waiting for our changeover flight in Dubai, UAE.

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA to DUBAI, U.A.E - November 28/29 2015

I really needed to find myself and this was the kind of adventure to do just that! Feeling free, setting myself challenges, facing fears, learning to trust my own judgement again - this was going to be a huge learning curve and turning point in my life.

I was overflowing with adrenalin by the time I arrived at the Adelaide Airport on the evening of Saturday November 28, 2015. My twenty year-old son had decided to accompany me on my adventure to Europe. He had been to Germany four years earlier on a high school exchange. He had fallen in love with Germany, spoke the language and had many friends he wanted to visit again. Though we would spend lots of the trip together, there would also be much that we would spend apart and it was fun having him travel with me. We learnt much about each other, on a different level, during our two months together.

We flew out of Adelaide at 9.30pm. It was around a twelve hour flight to Dubai. It was totally new to me to experience crossing so many time zones and by the time our flight landed in Dubai and we survived the twenty-minute crowded bus trip from the plane to the terminal, I was completely out of whack regarding time. We arrived in Dubai a few hours before sunrise. That in itself was surreal. It had been a long, long period of darkness even though I had managed to sleep for a lot of the first part of the flight.

Dubai Airport was insanely busy and we only had a three hour stopover and our luggage was already arranged to get automatically put onto our next Emirates flight from our first one, so all we had to worry about was getting our carry-on luggage and ourselves through the gates. That was a relief.

We could afford the time to sit and relax while waiting for our next flight so we looked for somewhere to buy a coffee and hot chocolate, and I looked for somewhere to have a cigarette. The Smoker's Lounge was something to behold! No exhaust fans. I lasted long enough to have one cigarette before needing to get out of the thick cloud of smoke and no air. I had never experienced anything like it but it surely had to be better than trying to find my way outside of the airport to indulge in a cigarette. I had no idea of even where to go for that option. Without a doubt, it was one of those moments when I realised how desperate smokers are to even be able to deal with sitting in a room like that to get a nicotine fix.

My memories of Dubai Airport - a crazy long bus ride, my fastest cigarette ever, and really expensive coffee. Other than that, it wasn't too challenging to get through customs and board the next flight. Before long we were heading to Dusseldorf and both of us were more than happy to be on the final stretch that would see us land in Germany in another eight hours' time.

One of the Smoking Lounges at Dubai International Airport.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Buy the ticket, take the ride!

My completed Travel Map 31.1.16

We all have dreams and we all have moments when we want to just pack a suitcase and go somewhere far away from our day to day life. I had one of those moments for most of 2015 for various reasons. I had longed to go to Europe for decades so in early November I bit the bullet, visited my local travel agent and bought an airline ticket for Saturday November 28, 2015 from Adelaide, South Australia to Dusseldorf, Germany, and a return ticket for January 30, 2016 from Prague, Czech Republic back to Adelaide.

I planned to be abroad for two months but other than that, and a rough itinerary of which countries/areas and which friends I wanted to visit, I left all of my travel plans open apart from accommodation the first week after arriving, and for five days around actual Christmas Day. I had never travelled outside of Australia before, had no skills in foreign language and thought I would just 'wing it'. I only planned my next stages a mere week or two in advance while 'on the road' and that enabled me to alter plans easily and by looking for and often finding great value options on services like MegaBus or FlixBus. For the most part, it didn't cost much extra than having had longer term bookings for transport and the flexibility was great.

Heading from the Australian summer to the European winter was not only really exciting but sadly, it meant that I really over-packed. I had no idea of how cheap good boots and jackets were in the countries I visited, especially Poland, so next trip to Europe in winter I will only be taking carry-on luggage (my cameras and minimal personal items such as a clean shirt) and will buy luggage, clothing and footwear as I need it. Less is more and how much easier it will be to get through customs. Not everybody could travel so lightly but I know I can.

The other major mistakes I made were being unprepared financially. Though I had minimal funds for the entire trip, I managed, but where I lost out was having a Cash Passport Card (so much money was chewed up by fees just on transferring money from Australia to it - my primary currency was Euros) and also not having enough actual cash of whatever the local currency was when entering foreign countries that used Euros as a secondary currency (Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, United Arab Emirates). In Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, and Slovakia there weren't any problems as they all used Euros.

In saying that, all of the errors and lessons only added to the adventure and all worked out fine in the end. I did drag too much heavy luggage around for far too much of the trip and ended up posting souvenirs home from Germany at expensive prices but they did arrive safely and promptly. It was a better option than lugging them around with me for four or five weeks. So, never underestimate the importance of travelling light. The lighter, the better (unless you are going to a country where shops are limited) as you can buy almost anything you need once you arrive.

Less is best!