New Blog on our new site

http://mattandelisesadventures.wordpress.com/2014/01/30/where-east-meets-west/

 

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Posted in Europe | Leave a comment

WE HAVE MOVED

guess what?

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it’s time for a change, some new scenery and a new blog address. As we hit the final leg of our travels, we have some new and exciting changes that you will have to read about on our new blog page:

http://mattandelisesadventures.wordpress.com/

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Don’t forget to stay tuned you can click “follow this blog” to receive email updates when a new post is online.

Hope to see you at our new address!

Elise & Matt

Travelling Tales 1:0 Photo flash back

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And so this is Christmas

(Sorry i actually had this done days ago but we haven’t had internet – god forbid!)

We certainly have had an incredible experience, for Christmas, embracing a whole new culture. Christmas markets, cold weather, snow-bear decorations and gluihwein are among a few of the new experiences we have had to make our Christmas this year in Germany so unique and special. It is here that I regret to inform you all that unfortunately we did not have the “white” Christmas I was dreaming about and Irving Berlin led me to believe was a given in the northern hemisphere.

Matt filled you in on the first half of our Christmas experience starting in Brussels, cologne and Alsace. Our initial impressions of Alsace were a little underwhelming, and only based on Strasbourg, a large city. It wasn’t until we went further along the wine route that we hit the mother load! It was from the traditional Alsatian village of Colmar that we were able to take shuttle buses to smaller festive towns such as Riqwihr and Eguisheim. These small wine villages are encased in rolling hills of vineyards. There are winding and narrow streets lined with odd shaped houses with edges jutting out at different angles.

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Some were painted blue and pink, and others more natural colours, but they were like stepping into a fairy-tale. It was beautiful. Decorations for Christmas were mandatory in every street, and integrated a lot of natural elements such trees, timber, leafy aspects etc. I loved the fairy lights and the original and home made authentic decorations, so unique and picturesque.

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Stalls lined the streets selling local crafts but unfortunately unsurpassed to those in Germany. We found there was a larger selection of cheeses, wines and bread: Typically French.

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Back in Colmar we also visited markets and saw incredible buildings, but they could not compare to the small scale and all embracing feeling the other towns managed to achieve. A one-off experience in Colmar was watching the children’s choir sing French Christmas carols on punting boats through the canals. We waited at one of the bridge points for them for over half an hour in the cold. It was crowded and getting dark, but hearing them come under the bridge was well worth the wait as they stopped in their fairy lit boats to sing for us. It was so festive and distinctive.

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Walking back through the streets a night was a completely different sight, and just blew me away. I went a little photo crazy trying to capture EVERYTHING, as each corner presented another visually stunning spectacle. Matt got a little over it all, understandably.

In Colmar, we stayed just outside of town, with an AirB&B host, Jean. Getting into Colmar was a bit of a nightmare, and tested Matt’s patience. We could not buy tickets on the platform before our train, but were told we could get them on board. On the train we had to pay an extra 8 euro which irritated Matt, as he hates being ripped off.  He tried to argue, but I reminded him it was pointless as we had been down this road before, and the poor ticket guy didn’t speak English and was only doing his job. Things got worse when we missed our first bus and then it just spiralled into a day of bad transport experiences for Matt, as he was over it all by this stage. We both get like this every now and again during our travels, where things that wouldn’t necessarily matter all add up when traveling in a foreign country and can just ruin your day. Unfortunately, this was Matt’s turn. Once we dropped our bags, we needed to get the bus back into town. 2 buses which we thought were supposed to stop for us, drove straight passed us and we ended up waiting over half and hour for another bus. Whilst waiting at the bus stop we learnt that in fact buses would not run on Sunday to take us back into the station before 1pm and we had to check out in the morning. Our day of bad transport did not end there. As we had not been able to get on the earlier buses, we missed the connecting shuttle that we had planned to take into Riqwhir. As we were now in Colmar, we decided we could use the time to plan our next few days and transport. The tourist centre shed a little more light on the transport difficulties. All transport into the city centre would cease on Sundays for the Christmas markets and festivities. In addition, shuttles into the smaller towns were not running as regularly as we had hoped. This can all be a little too much to take in, when you are having a bad day. We took some time and were able to schedule new plans, enabling us enough time to see Colmar and 2 smaller towns. We decided to have an early afternoon and go home and cook some dinner. After getting some shopping, we pressed the button to get off the bus but once again, we had bad luck, and the driver did not stop for us, meaning we had to walk a lot further home. After a day of frustrating transport experiences, we were able to relax in a home and cook a nice evenings meal in peace. That was the end of our transport problems, thank goodness! J

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On our second night in Colmar our host Jean, entertained us. He offered to cook us dinner, and we eagerly accepted. We sat and helped in the kitchen, chatting while he prepared delicious chicken in white wine. Unfortunately, he did not have enough chicken for 3, so cooked himself a meat patty, we felt so bad, but after we ate the chicken, were feeling pretty good! YUM! We shared wine, cheese and bread continuing to chat about our lives and Alsace. It was a lovely social evening, and it had been so nice of Jean to offer such generous hospitality.

It was time to say goodbye to Alsace and head back into Germany. I had been having some pains in my chest which I was worried could be my heart. On Sunday in Stuttgart, so close to Christmas, finding a Dr available was no easy feat. After a visit to the tourist centre, we headed to Marien’s Hospital where they offered a weekend GP service. I was so anxious and nervous, because in my mind all I could think about was the worst happening – a repeat of India… I tried to stay rational, and Matt was amazing and kept me calm. Thank goodness, after a few minutes a Dr saw me. Of all the English-speaking doctors that there are in Stuttgart, I think I had the only one who couldn’t… It made for another funny foreign hospital experience as I was examined, my heart was checked and I was relieved to discover, I was not dying and in fact had a compressed nerve in my back. PHEW! Best money ever spent in my life! We could return to our hostel and rest, with peace of mind, and a funny hospital story too!

Stuttgart has a huge Christmas market and some of the most elaborate store decorations we have seen. On Sunday it was packed, you could barely walk through the passage, and had no chance of actually stopping at any of the stalls through the hoards of people. It was crazy! Monday we tried again and had a much more pleasant experience. We could view the stalls at our own pace, and had space to walk freely. They were beautiful! We loved seeing all the foreign and delicious food, ranges of candles, sweets, chocolate, ginger bread, ornaments, glasses, and domestic essentials. The timber stalls I love had a sale on, and having just laughed at Matt’s jubilation over discounted gingerbread, I quickly followed with an equally excited response for the timber ornaments. Our Christmas was now complete as we had a nativity!! It was so nice being able to buy something from the markets at a reasonable price.

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Christmas in Suttgart is extremely family oriented, and is celebrated primarily on Christmas eve. They have big family dinners and exchange presents. The following 2 days are spent visiting people, and is also family centred. Whilst traveling in NZ years ago, I met a girl, who I made contact with and assisted us out over Christmas with accommodation. She had a share flat in Stuttgart which would be practically empty and said we could stay. We were very lucky, as we found out that even our hostel was closing for a week over Christmas. We met Marlen on Monday afternoon, and spent the rest of the day with her and her brother Mario. They took us up to the forest that encircles Stuttgart and we got a beautiful view of the sunset and city. She told us the location was where they put all the building ruins after WW2 and a memorial was set up. It was pretty cool. Back in her flat we had dinner together, 2 German dishes with egg noodles and sour kraut. It was a great night talking about travel experiences and how much more of Australia and NZ they have done than us!

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The next few days we nestled in to the apartment for Christmas, making it homely, decorating, enjoying some R&R and a place to call “home”. It rained over Christmas and boxing day, so matt got pretty comfy, but I was able to take get him out of the place to mass for Christmas eve. The service was in English and targeted to international people living or visiting Suttgart. I found the Priest very compelling and enjoyed his sermon.  Matt however noted that the service duration was exceptionally long at 1.5 hours… I was grateful for our Christmas together, how lucky, healthy and safe we were. I couldn’t have asked for anything more for us.

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Christmas was about lots of relaxation, skyping home and planning the final leg of our trip together in Turkey and South Africa. Matt is looking into extending his time in Africa to include Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and a hike up Kilimanjaro. It was good to have some time to go through our trip and look at our end dates. Matt was getting pretty excited planning with endless possibilities, but has been thrown into line by his sister demanding his return by April.

We left Stuttgart on the 27th and spent 1 day in Nuremberg, with no regrets. Nuremberg is a delightful, quaint and charming city with a great atmosphere and apparently THE BEST Christmas markets – which closed on Christmas eve. None-the-less we loved taking the time to embrace the town with all its appeal – streams, castles, old poky streets and cool architecture. We also visited the justice palace, which was a mind altering and enlightening education about the Nuremberg trials and international justice system. We had planned to visit the Nazi Rally Site as well, but spent a bit longer than we expected in the first site. Matt and I left both reflecting on a lot and with a great deal more information to process. That night in Nuremberg we enjoyed a late Christmas dinner of Pork shoulder and roast beef for a very reasonable price in a superb restaurant. It was a great treat for Christmas, and the meals were perfect.

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We have ended our Christmas extravaganza and time in Germany with Munich. Having visited Berlin earlier in our travels we knew that Munich would be different but were really astonished by how large the contrast is. Munich is Bavarian, centred around beer and good social atmosphere, there are grand old buildings and a traditional more regimented societal ambiance. We found things just worked in Munich. There is a good government and social system and everyone follows it and seems to accept it. Transport is on time, efficient and comfortable. The roads are clean and there is rarely any beggars or “suspicious” wrongdoers on the streets, you felt safe everywhere. People would congregate in the thousands in beer halls and yet there would be no public disturbances or riots. It was like walking into a strange perfect society.

Saturday was spent engaging in the last of our Germany Tourist shopping expedition and enjoying the sunshine and unusually warm weather. In the evening we made friends in our hostel, most of which we learnt will all be in Prague for NYE as well. Sunday was a great day. We began with an extensive walking tour of the city where we learnt about historical buildings, the impact of the war on Munich, the destruction of 82% of infrastructure, Dachau concentration camp being kept open as a refuge camp till the mid 60’s, the series of chance events that brought Hitler into power, folklores, traditions such as giving the woman you want a piece of timber and the sad reality that German’s tend to feel stereotyped and branded permanently for their country’s past. It was really thought-provoking. Afterwards we enjoyed the natural beauty in the English Garden before watching some surfing in the river, which seems and looked just as insane! We concluded our day in the city at a beer hall eating good German food, enjoying the ambience and tasting some fine Augustina beer.

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Part 2 of our time in Munich involved a wonderful family reunion and first meeting for 2 of my cousins, their families and us. My cousin Harnesh is living in Munich with his German partner and their boy. We had arranged to meet them and were invited to stay a night at their new house. We were lucky to also meet his brother Kavi who is living in London with his wife and their daughter who were visiting for Christmas. We had a really enjoyable evening and time with my family. It was great to meet them and spend time together. We were spoilt to a very nice authentic Bavarian restaurant dinner together trying some new food and then catching up over a few drinks together back at their place. We both really enjoyed playing with the children too and had a fun outing shopping together before the NYE celebrations (fireworks are on sale everywhere – it’s incredible!). It was a really lovely end to our time in Munich and so nice to meet some more of the family I have around the globe.

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We hope you all enjoyed as lovely a Christmas as we did filled with friends, family, relaxation and bundles of Christmas spirit! All the best for 2014, thanks for reading! Elise

Posted in Europe, France, Germany | Leave a comment

Escape to the Country

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I know I have been MIA since Paris, and my apologies but I was having the experience of a lifetime! When I left Matt in Paris and he went to Normandy and Amsterdam I spent 2 weeks in a small town in Belgium called Zelem-Halen volunteering as a nanny for a 10.5month old boy named Casper. To understand the full impact this experience has had on me you need to understand the uniqueness of the people and the place. His parents Greet and Eric have started a co-housing group on an old monastery, which they are in the process of converting into a convention/ function centre.

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There are 6 investors in the project who all practice natural energies, are very spiritually in touch with themselves and the presence of other’s energies and charismas. I found this really uplifting to be around.

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An average day for me involved waking up at 8am (still dark), dressing and eating my breakfast. At 9am everyone working, living or volunteering at the monastery would attend a morning meeting, which began by greeting each other with warm embracing hugs. Then they would all express how they slept and were feeling before addressing their duties for the day or agenda for upcoming functions and who would prepare the group meals for the day. This was a really nice start to the day, and allowed for interactions before the “work” began. After that I went to Greet and Eric’s apartment, which was on the opposite side of the monastery. I played with Casper, prepared his morning meal of stewed fruit and changed his nappy. By this time we tried to go for a walk in the garden and nearby fields, which we could enter through a tiny door in the garden wall.

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Here Casper and I escaped to the tranquil surroundings that were being transformed with the colder weather.

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Casper usually slept during this time and we stayed outside for 45 minutes to 1.5hrs depending on whether I needed to be back to cook his lunch or prepare the group lunch. Group lunch or dinner duty was no easy task as it was never clear how many people would be present, usually between 10-14 and then there is the added difficulty of preparing a meal with few ingredients for such a large group. Definitely no easy task, mostly one the women volunteered for and most frequently we ate a form of vegetable soup and bread (which could cooked in advance and frozen). In the garden we had a range of fresh (freezing actually due to the weather conditions) crops and daily chicken eggs for our consumption that helped reduce costs for the people, and on the environment.

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Lunch was a 12.30pm every day, and Greet and I took turns feed Casper and ourselves. After he usually required another nappy change. Now might be a good time to mention that Casper had all cloth nappies. This was a new practice for me, but one I picked up relatively quickly and was soon a whiz at distracting him long enough to keep all the layers in place and tie the nappy around him without losing the whole design. There were still a couple of mishaps with unkempt nappies that could not be tied due to a wriggling baby.

Enough digressing, you don’t need me to go into more detail about the cleaning and reusing process, you get the idea, I’m sure many of you used cloth nappies, I know I had them as a kid.

In the afternoon, Casper and I played with blocks, wooden pegs, kitchen sieves, tupperware and funnels and read lots of books. Sometimes we danced, other times did lots of unpacking and repacking of kitchen shelves and tipping out all the pegs from the bucket. We found musical instruments in every toy, or surface, from my metal water bottle to the wooden blocks. We loved looking out the windows and playing with the fog we made on the glass. Peek-a-boo, and chasing became a new favourite during our time together also.  By nap time we were both tired, only difference was he got a bottle and cuddle and bed, and I packed away all the toys, ready for him to play with again when he woke. His sleep time varied again in the afternoon, once he slept over 2 hours! I usually stayed with him till 4ish, but had 2 or 3 nights where I had him in the evening too as Greet and Eric had evening meetings to attend. I mostly had some personal time then till dinner or had to prepare dinner, which we ate as a group at 6.30pm.

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Evenings were quiet, where I could read, scrapbook, write and talk with Matt. I showered then and slept, which was surprisingly easy to do. Every day followed this rough schedule, and it was a great sense of routine and stability that I needed to revitalise my mind and body from our long and unpredictable journey till then.

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I took a lot from my time at Sint Jansberklooster. I learnt how to appreciate myself again and find strength in my positive attributes which people reminded me of and praised me for daily. I found strength in who they saw me for and how they appreciated the spirit in each unique individual part the commune. I learnt about the value of sustainable living, growing your own veges, baking your own bread and using natural products free from chemicals and harmful agents (that’s right mum, no Domestos!). I found joy in the simple things again, walking, nature and a happy vibrant baby. I took time out to reflect on things, and meditate which is so important. I hadn’t realised how busy we had really been for the past 5 months until I actually stopped for a couple of weeks. I spent time learning about how other people live, as a community, sharing their food, and supporting each other, giving strength and motivation to each person who needs it. I learnt the merit of building people up rather than tearing them down, makes for happier, more productive individuals (Yet Australian’s act the opposite to this culturally, maybe out of fear of people getting “big headed”, it doesn’t make sense). I got to know a wide range of unique and special people who all touched me in their own way, and had their own quirks and personal hardships that they had or were overcoming. I opened my mind up to a new lifestyle and way of living and found it incredibly beneficial. I was exposed to crystal power and energies and the benefits of sound healing – all different, new things which I would not have experienced without opening myself up to these opportunities.

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When Matt and I discussed the possibility of him joining me for 4 days as he had run out of things to do, I agreed, but was a little apprehensive about sharing my little piece of paradise and feared he might spoil the atmosphere. I was being selfish. I wasn’t sure how his energies would go in the mix of things, and whether he would just want to stay on his computer rather than try new experiences… I wasn’t sure how he would take it all. It is different. On the other hand, the night before his arrival, I was so excited to be seeing him again, I could barely sleep, and was bursting with joy that morning too. I was counting down the hours till Greet, Casper and I met him at the station.  It was so nice to have Matt with me, and I had absolutely nothing to be worried about. Matt opened himself up to the new lifestyle at Sint-Jansberklooster and contributed in his own way. I loved being able to share with him what I had learnt and reflect with him on our new insights together. He was really open to it all, and even came to a sound healing evening with Greet and I. He loved Casper and Greet as much as I did, and I knew he could see why I loved it.

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The 4 days passed so quickly and Matt made himself useful helping out with manual labour around the property, which was useful as one the other helpers was getting on in years and had eye-sight and health limitations. We had 4 really busy nights in a row and were rushing to plan our next location and accommodation.

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Before we knew it, it was Friday and my last day with Casper and Greet. It was an emotional day, but one we spent bonding one last time together and were both able to reflect on what we had gained from the experience. Saturday we woke, and attended our last morning meeting – a farewell really, where everyone spoke and gave us big hugs. They gave me an amethyst crystal, which I will always cherish, but really they have given me so much more than that. After a teary farewell we were back where we had left off, on the road, bags in hand and catching another train for another city. But something had changed, I felt different, better. Refreshed.

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Elise

Posted in Belgium, Europe | 1 Comment

On the 1st Day of Christmas

After a few days rest, Elise and I said sad goodbyes to the people of Sint-Jansbergklooster and made our way to Brussels.

Unlike Bruges or Ghent, Brussels is a big modern city with only a few old town areas and no canals running through the heart of it. One of the main attractions in town is the Atonium, a configuration of eight balls known as the Eiffel tower of Brussels. It was out of the city but from a local tip we could see it clearly  from the top of parking lot 58.

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We enjoyed a relaxing day walking around the city going to:

–          Grand Palace Square, one of the highlights of Europe. They had a Christmas light show on in the evening and a huge nativity scene with live animals.

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–          Eating fresh Waffles

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–          Strolling through the Christmas Markets

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– A little boy statue

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– And a few random shops

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Brussels was just a short stop before heading to Germany which is renowned for the best Christmas markets in the world. Our first Stop in Germany was Cologne which has seven main Christmas markets spread throughout the city with different themes. Our highlights were:

–          Cathedral Markets: these are the biggest in the city with a huge light canopy in the centre.  At night, we went crazy with the camera and tripod getting the best photos with the cathedral as a backdrop. We also enjoyed some spinach and sausage stew as well as stall browsing.

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–          Elves Markets: these were by far the best. We had some warm apple punch with alcohol in these awesome mugs decorated with crazy elves. All of the shops were in wooden huts with a variety of German food, woollen clothing, Christmas decorations and wooden objects. To top it off, there was an ice skating rink through the middle with a section to play ice bowls. We both tried some fried potatoes.

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–          Angel Markets: were decorated with lots of angels and had a more angelic feel to it and more delicate Christmas decorations. I had my first curry-wurst which was ok but I think I can find a better one.

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–          Fairy Tale Markets: are the children’s markets centred around one of the old castle gates. On top of all the roofs were figurines of different fairy tale stories. All the stores had a lot of wooden toys and there was a huge Santa on display.

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We were fortunate to arrive in Cologne just in time to see an old school friend, Nichla perform some of her new music and Christmas carols in a small café. Nichla has come over from Australia to finish her Masters and perform as a Jazz singer.  We caught up at a few Christmas markets and also met up with another school friend, Alex George, who was also in town visiting.

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The rest of our time was spent at:

  • Chocolate Museum: bit of a let down for a chocoholic. It is exactly as it reads: a museum. Lot of history on how it was made and information about cocoa. Not like the Beer factories which are a lot more hands on and involve the product!!

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  • Eating out at a typical German Pub. I got a Schnitzel in Mushroom sauce with great chips while Elise ordered a seasoned chicken breast which came with chat potatoes, bacon, 2 eggs and a jar of salad.

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  • Shopping at TKMAXX!! I know, the store has branched out to Germany and boy did we find some more bargains!!!
  • Seeing the Hobbit #2 in German!! I have been looking to see the Hobbit in HFR (Higher Frame Rate), the latest new filming effect. I found plenty of cinemas and after sitting through 20min of ads we realised it was in German!! We had already see Hunger Games in France which showed the original version with French subtitles but we found out Germans prefer their native tongue to Ian Mckellen and Orlando Bloom. There was only one screening in English on and it was 2 hrs later in only 3D. Elise said “why don’t we just watch it in German, we will get the gist of it” to which I laughed. Oh well, no HFR but still saw an awesome movie.

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After three nights in Cologne we headed off early in the morning to St Goar in the Rheine Valley to do some shopping. Elise visited St Goar on her 2 wk tour of Europe with TopDeck in 2010 and was very impressed by the:

–           Birkenstocks warehouse

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–          Largest hanging cookoo-clock

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–          Largest beer stein

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Which were all……closed.

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We looked them up in advance to try and prevent this, but there wasn’t any information so we thought we’d wing it. We still got to have a nice view of the Rheine valley and sat in a café waiting for the train. We had four connecting trains to catch that day in order to get to Strasbourg in Alasace, France another popular Christmas destination.

After an exhausting day on the trains we slept in till midday the following day. Strasbourg was a bit overcast and drizzly but very festive. All the streets were decorated with lights, elves, ornaments, polar bears and Santa! The other main attraction was the Alsatian architecture which is best described as “walking into the set of Hansel & Gretel” the fairytale. The markets were nice but a little more generic with standard Christmas ornaments compared to the Cologne markets which had a greater range of German culture and quality local crafts. It still has a great Christmas feel to it, especially as I walked around in my Christmas jumper!

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Now we are heading to Colmar, another town in the Alsace region.

We hope everyone is having a peaceful lead up to Christmas and are not too frantic looking for Christmas presents for Elise and I!! Have a very merry Christmas, enjoy the time with loved ones and know we are happily freezing over here! All the best for the new year.

Stay tuned for the 2nd installment of Christmas in Alsace and hearing about Elise’s time in Belgium.

Matt

P.S See WWI blog for new video on the trip

Posted in Europe, France, Germany | Leave a comment

Lone Traveller

So now for part two of my trip “all by myself…..” continues.  I am now back to the usual sightseeing routine going through Belgium and Netherlands. First stop Bruges.

I arrived late to my hostel to find it being renovated and a bit of a mess. On top of that I had 15min to cook my dinner before they shut the kitchen and common room but no food in the bedrooms so I sat with my pizza in the hall way. I was pretty hungry, so the pizza only lasted 1min. I think I must be used to the quality of Portugal’s hostels as I just kept finding problems in this hostel!!

In terms of sightseeing in Bruges, it’s more about walking around these medieval streets with small canals. It is quite picturesque and said to be a very romantic town; they even have love hearts on the maps for those romantic spots. Oops, of well. Funny enough, Elise was told this by her host Greet.

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The walking tour heavily focused on all the key areas seen in the Colin Farrell movie “In Bruges”. It got a little annoying as the movie isn’t that good but the guide made it sound like this was all that Bruges was known for!! One funny fact that the guide did mention is that French fries do not come from France. The Americans got confused during World War I and ate these awesome fries in Belgium but thought they were in France.  The rest of my day revolved around walking the streets to find the best chocolate shops.

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That afternoon I met a group of Aussies and an American staying at my hostel. We decided to go for a Beer Tasting event at another hostel. We got a bit lost and arrived 15min late to find a stubborn American unwilling to take us in offseason. For some reason her company schedules a beer tasting at 7pm (5 beers) and a pub crawl at 8.45pm which one person runs. We ended up staying at this hostel and another pub trying the different Belgium Beers. It was actually pretty cool to find out that each Belgium beer has a glass specific designed for it to improve the taste.

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I decided to move on as this group was leaving and not much else to do in Bruges besides the chocolate so I ventured to Ghent. It was a bigger version of Bruges and they were just sitting up their Christmas markets which were cool. My hostel was looking over a canal and was a really nicely renovated wooden hotel. The only problem was that there were only 3 people checked in!! So another stroll around the city stopping in at a castle and buying some French fries. I spent a lot of time planning my last part of the trip which is now looking like Uganda, Kenya and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania!!

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I did find this interesting shop in Ghent, who knew…

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Now it’s time for a bit more atmosphere as I arrive at the liberal capital of the Netherlands, Amsterdam. As it was the weekend, prices jumped dramatically so I split my time in Amsterdam between a Christian Hostel and another well recommended hostel. This was quite a different experience with no alcohol allowed on site, a reading section with all bibles and an optional bible discussion as the hostel activity for the night. Strangely, the hostel was located in an alley way on the edge of the Red Light District with several erotic venues on the same street.

I made my way up to the Heineken Experience which explains how the beer was made and a few interactive activities. This was the first time I tasted the beer on tap as it is always in a bottle back home and it was really good!

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I met a Kenyan Girl, Juliet, who is studying in Belgium along the way and ended up going on a pub crawl with her that evening. This was interesting as with were meant to go on a ‘pub guide’ which is only 3 pubs with a few beers included but as it was winter they had dropped this one and just running their ‘Pub Crawl” which involves around 5 pubs and clubs as well as lots of shots. We ate an Irish meal while waiting for the guide to rustle up a few more people and found out that it was only us and a Polish/Ukrainian couple. It was interesting evening as the vodka shots were out of a bottle the guide had bought and also homemade, a little weak. We were supposed to do the shot out of the bottle but the couple came up with the idea of doing the shot out of little souvenir clogs! It was a fun but weird night.

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The downside of the night was having to navigate my way back to the hostel. There was no one around it; I had to venture through the streets of the Red Light Night District. I tried to cover my eyes but there was too many people roaming the street ready to ‘sin’. I found out the following day that prostitution is legal in Amsterdam with the girls paying taxes for their work. They work freelance by renting out a booth at 150€ for 8 hours and charging clients 50€ per 15min. You also are not allowed to take photos unless you want to be chased down the street and camera smashed.

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The following day I checked out of my Christian Hostel into the Flying Pig which has its own smoking room which is where the majority of residents spend their time. I went on a walking tour around the city and got a run down on the red light district, coffee shops, impact of WWII and Anne Frank. One highlight was going to a cheese shop and trying all the different types of cheese, in particular a soft goat’s cheese and some hard orange thing! The rest of my time in Amsterdam was spent visiting:

–          Anne Frank House which was quite amazing. I cannot imagine not being able to venture outside and such a small space for eight people to live in hiding. Sorry but no photos allowed.

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–          Vondel Park which is basically a huge park!

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–          Jordaan area which is famous for all of those pretty canal shots.

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–          The Famous “ I Amsterdam” sign

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–          And shopping, but this time picking up supplies for Elise. Although i did find some of the only tools my dad could operate.

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One frustrating thing was that the cleaning staff chucked 3 pairs of my underwear which were drying on the bed railing, into the bin as they thought someone had left them. Fortunately, I found them and got two free drinks out of it.

So now my solo time comes to an end. I initially had 2wks but found myself with a bit of extra time up my sleeve and decided to go help out on Elise’s monastery with handy man stuff!! Hopefully I can save some money to splurge on the best Christmas Markets in the world, Germany. It has been an interesting time by myself; trying to put myself out there to meet other people but after 5 months with Elise I actually miss all her annoying habits!

Hope all is well back home. Congratulations to my sister on being no.2 in Religion, must be Dad’s guiding influence. And Dec on his new job!

Matt

Posted in Belgium, Europe, Netherlands | Leave a comment

Remembrance Drive

So I am pretty nervous. I am back in Paris, getting ready to leave for my train to Amiens. I was in the same situation 145 days when I first arrived in Paris at the start of the trip and only just jumped onto the train with seconds to spare. The only difference this time is I won’t have Elise with me!

So it’s 6.30am and Paris is still pitch black and cold. I make my way on the metro to the main station and it happens again! I am sitting waiting for the train which comes at 7.28am when I realize I am again at the wrong terminal of the station. Luckily, this time I had 20mins to spare. Off to Amiens.

So I decided a few months back to do a tour of the battlefields in northern France but wasn’t sure whether to do Omaha Beach from WWII (D-Day) or around Somme where the Australians fought in WWI. I ended up choosing a tour of Somme which was fortunate as mum informed me that my Great Great Uncle, Henry Cameron, is buried in the Villers-Bretonneux Cemetery close by.

The tour guide picked us up from Amiens which was a major transport line during WWI delivering supplies from Paris to the frontline. The Germans focused their efforts on this area in order to capture the train line and eventually the coastline. The guide was a French historian and I was joined by a couple from Canberra, Mother & daughter from Sydney and a family from Brisbane. The day was divided into two sections: 1918 and 1916 battlefields. Both areas were close in proximity as the WWI frontline was fairly ‘static’ compared to WWII, mainly due to both sides digging in for the winter.

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First stop was the Australian memorial at Villers-Bretonneux which commemorates the service of 10,762 ANZACS who died for our country, mainly of whom are still missing. I was fortunate enough to find the resting place of my Great Great Uncle, Lance Corporal Henry Ewen Cameron, who was a part of the 50th Battalion and killed in action on 7th July 1918 age 33. After walking around the grounds and the memorials, it was good to see that the sacrifice these WWI servicemen made was been properly recognised and remembered. An interesting fact was that this memorial was set up just prior to WWII and there are still bullet holes evident in the memorial today from WWII.

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Over the day, we stopped at many other cemeteries and memorials to the fallen including:

–          A German Cemetery.

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Due to the Treaty of Versailles, Germans are not allowed to pick the sites of their cemeteries which are usually off the main road where no one will notice them. They also have four buried to one black cross. Interesting to note that there were Jewish soldiers in the German Army.

–          A German War Bunker

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–          the Australian 1st Division in Pozieres

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–          Thiepval Memorial commemorating the 72,000 missing British and South African soldiers

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–          The Newfoundland Memorial Park which still has preserved trenches

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–          Lochnagar Crater which was due to mining underneath the enemy and planting explosives

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One of the most moving things I visited was the small town of Villers-Bretonnuex. This small town was completely wiped off the map as it was right on the frontline and received frequent shelling from both sides. After the war, the primary school children of Victoria raised enough money to rebuild the local primary school as a gift to the children of Villers-Bretonnuex. You do not have to go far in this town to see the impact of this generosity and the fact that 1,200 Australian soldiers lost their lives recapturing this town during WWI. Nearly every street is named after an Australian Icon, Kangaroo is served in restaurants and the local school is decorated in Aboriginal art and Australian wildlife. The school children even raised $20,000 AUD to rebuild one of the Victorian Schools burnt down in the 2009 bushfires. “Do not forget Australia”.

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The tour came to an end and I made my way up to Lillie which sits on the border of France and Belgium. It was just a quick stop over before heading to Ypres the next day to pay my respects to another town completely destroyed during WWI.

Ypres is one of the first spots the French and British halted the Germans during their sweep across Belgium. There were three major battles for the town and was also the first place the Germans introduced tear gas in the war. On a lighter note, it was one of the sites that held an unofficial Christmas True between German and British Soldiers.

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For some reason, I felt like it was going to be a cold day and put on all of my thermals which was the best decision I have made. I arrived in Ypres at 1pm to find it covered in fog and a temperature of 1 degree.

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The gloomy dark feeling given off by the fog and buildings was counter by all of the Christmas decorations throughout the streets and Main Square. I walked around some stalls and had my first bratwurst which was awesome, especially in this cold weather.

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I found my way to the Flanders Field Museum which documented all of the battles that occurred in this area of the war. It was really well done with each person receiving a bracelet with their details so when they visited certain screens, information specific to their age and nationality would come up to help understand the sacrifices that were made.

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Afterwards, I did a lap of the city walls and monuments.

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By this stage it was 5pm and I still had 3hrs until the Last Post at the Menin Gate, which is performed every night. For some reason I decided to sit outside in the freezing cold in the Christmas market area where there was free internet. I tried talking to Elise but my hand was freezing over as our calls kept dropping out and I had to continual remove my gloves to call back. You’d think people in Europe would have complained to Apple enough by now to invent touch screens which responds to glove contact!

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So I better idea came to mind, WAFFLES. I found a cosy café and got some warm chocolate waffles which disappeared within seconds.

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At 8pm, 50 people had gathered under the archers of the Menin Gate, a memorial to the fallen of WWI. Every evening locals and tourist come to pay their respects as the Last Post Association plays the Last Post, lays poppy reefs and reads the Ode of Remembrance. It may have been dark and cold but that did not stop school children, youth and the elderly from coming to pay their respect.

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So this ends my Remembrance tour of World War I Battlefields. For a lot of Australians, the Great War is overshadowed by the events of World War II, especially as it was so close to home. However, after learning about the bravery of the over 6,000 Australians who fell in the taking of Pozieres, enduring life in the trenches during the cold European winters and psychologically dealing with constant shelling from an enemy only feet away, it is important that we never forget. It reminds me of the a few lines written on the Roll Call of the Bomana War Cemetery:

When you go home

Tell them of us

Tell them for their today

We gave our tomorrow

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Lest We Forget

Matt

Posted in Belgium, Europe, France | 1 Comment