Monk statues perfectly aligned in front of a monastery in Hpa An, Myanmar
The last 6 months have been far from quiet, contrary to my blog activity. Admittedly I have been struggling to keep up with updates but I’m hoping to catch up with this quick 6 month summary of where we’ve been.
A snowball fight up the Swiss Alps
We finished the year 2013 in a small town called Frauenfeld in Switzerland while making side trips to Zurich, Schaffhausen, Fussen (to see the Neuschwanstein Castle) and Lindau with family who flew for miles to visit us. Snow evaded us all Christmas so we made a trip up the Santis mountain to throw snowballs at each other.
Our workaway stint in this mansion
In the new year, we happily returned to Paris for a quick trip to revisit old favourite spots before taking a train to the small town of St Thomas de Conac in the Southwest of France, close to the region of Cognac, where we stayed with a French family for 2 weeks. In exchange for free lodging and 3 meals a day, we worked hard each day to turn their beautiful old mansion into a bed & breakfast. Our french improved and we learned how to appreciate french vegetarian cuisine.
Le Mont St. Michel from afar
After our 2 week stint ended, we wished our new friends good luck and left to go up north to visit the towns of Saint-Malo and Mont St. Michel in the region of Bretagne. Crepes never tasted better than in the region it came from and we swore never to eat crepes outside Bretagne again (which incidentally did not last long…).
Made a new friend in our second workway stint
A few days later we joined our second host family in the town of St Pere En Retz for 2 weeks and learned a host of new things like building fences, flipping crepes, making marmalade and salad dressing, appreciating wine and shopping in french farmers markets (which happens to be a leisurely weekly activity).
The American cemetery at Omaha beach, Normandy
Two weeks went by incredibly fast and we were soon saying goodbye again to our new friends before leaving for Normandy. We got to see the D-day beaches and American cemetery and despite atrocious weather conditions, felt strangely peaceful to be surrounded by thousands of crosses.
Shopping in the souk of Marrakesh, Morocco
We boarded a plane and landed in the welcoming heat and exotic smells of Marrakesh where we were joined by old friends we had not seen in ages. Together, we trekked on camels and spent a night in the Sahara dessert amidst a sandstorm, took a bus ride through the breathtaking Atlas mountains, ate one too many tagines, visited a foul smelling leather tannery in Fes and explored the picturesque blue city of Chefchaouen during our two week Moroccan adventure.
The town of Lagos, Portugal
A short ferry ride transported us across the Strait of Gibraltar to Tarifa in Spain where we indulged in some of the most amazing tapas we’ve ever eaten. The next day we hopped on a bus towards the Algarve coast in Portugal where we visited a bone chapel in Faro and ate delicious chicken piri piri in Lagos. In Lisbon we were captivated by Fado music as well as the famous custard tarts of Belem.
The Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal
Sintra was a fairytale escape from the buzz of Lisbon and Porto fast became my favourite city because of its riverfront and charming buildings.
Standing at the edge of Plaza Mayor in Salamanca, Spain
A quick stopover in Salamanca en route to Madrid impressed us with its vibrancy and stunning Plaza Mayor while Madrid stayed in our hearts. We went vintage shopping in Malasana, soaked in art at the world class museums and hung out in tapas bars. Madrid reminded us so much of NYC it made our hearts ache.
Watching a bullfight in Valencia, Spain
We reunited with our old friend again in Valencia to party like never before in Valencia’s Las Fallas festival. For four days we watched fireworks, heard never ending gunfire explode and saw elaborate structures get burned down in the spirit of the annual fire festival. No one does festivals quite like the Spanish. Our experience was further heightened by an unforgettable bullfight show in the Plaza del Toros of Valencia.
The Gap of Dunloe, Ireland
We then parted ways and made our way to Dublin where we piled back on winter layers to brace the cold and winds. We rented a tiny car and drove for a week around Ireland, taking in some of the most breathtaking natural beauty there is out there. Our last stop, Belfast in Northern Ireland, was an eye opening visit and we learned so much about its recent troubled history from spending some time with our friendly host.
The town of Bruges in Belgium
A quick flight took us back to the continent, specifically Brussels and we had one full day to see the many Tin Tin artwork and chocolate shops around the city before taking a train to Antwerp which felt like a whole new country with locals speaking Flemish and looking more Dutch than their French speaking counterparts in Brussels. A day trip to charming Bruges rewarded us with beautiful sunny weather, pleasant strolls along its many canals and mouthwatering waffles.
The quintessential windmill in Holland
We spent more than a week with good friends in Amsterdam and cycled around tulip fields in the Dutch countryside, fell in love with Vincent Van Gogh’s art work in the Van Gogh museum and climbed a working windmill in Zaanse Schans.
Semana Santa processions in Andalusia, Spain
Leaving our good friends this time was easier knowing that we had more family to see soon, which we did in Spain. Together we spent 11 days in the historically and culturally rich region of Andalusia where we watched flamenco in Seville, observed Semana Santa processions in Cordoba and visited the Alhambra in Granada.
The French Riviera
After Andalusia we flew to Toulouse, France and rented a car to drive around the the Languedoc-Roussillon region. The highlight was watching flocks of pink flamingoes in their natural habitat in Camargue. The mediterranean beckoned us and we headed east towards the Cote d’Azur, basking in the Mediterranean sunshine in towns like Nice, Cannes, Antibes, and Menton. Monaco was probably the smallest and richest country I’ve ever stepped foot in.
London was our next stop and we spent a good week seeing all that London had to offer, including a little side trip to Oxford for scones and tea (and to see the university of course!) with surprisingly more sunny than rainy days.
Inside the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp
In Krakow, we ate pierogi (Polish dumplings) and joined a fantastic free walking tour of the city (our first one ever!). A sobering trip to the Auschwitz concentration camps left us shaken by the horrors of the holocaust.
An indoor food market in Stockholm
We spent 3 days in Stockholm and fell in love with its many sleek design shops. Less than an hour’s flight away, Helsinki was surprisingly liveable and the Finnish language sounded like a variation of Japanese.
The streets of St Petersburg, Russia
We boarded an overnight cruise ship to St Petersburg, Russia and spent 72 hours in this gorgeous city, meeting interesting locals, watching a fascinating ballet performance and shopping for cheap Russian dolls at a local market.
Looking over Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh, Scotland
The last leg of our travels was spent with a good friend in the UK where we hiked 13 km in the Lakes district, visited a castle in Snowdonia, Wales, ate chinese food in Manchester and searched for Shakespeare’s grave in Stratford upon Avon to no avail. We made our way north to Glasgow in Scotland and contemplated joining a ghost tour in Edinburgh but ended up entertaining ourselves with some good old Scottish stand up comedy instead.
The Basilica Sacre Coeur in Paris at sunset
We flew from Edinburgh to Paris and had 2 hours to spare in transit for one last baguette and stroll by the River Seine, and then it’s au revoir Europe as we fly to Doha, Qatar for one night to see what this gulf state had to offer.
The last 6 months have seen us through 14 countries and countless travel stories, memories and lessons that would last us a lifetime. We are beyond blessed to experience this and are excited to continue on our journey through Asia for the next 6-12 months. Keep following our journey! Your support and comments are invaluable to us 🙂
See the summary of the first 6 months of our travel HERE.
It’s no secret on this blog that I have a thing for fields of flowers. Canola fields, sunflower fields, lavender fields or even just plain wildflowers bring out the childish urge in me to run, jump and lie in them. So it’s been a goal of mine to add to this list and see the famous tulip fields of Holland. Getting the timing right was the tricky bit, but we knew our time in Europe afforded us this flexibility to catch the next available flight to Amsterdam as soon as the first bulbs of the season bloom. And it sure paid off.
I wish I could clearly describe the sheer joy and exhilaration from spotting the first tulip field from afar. I remember cycling down flat bike lanes, our eyes scanning the horizon for streaks of colour and when a glimpse of one is discovered, shrieks of pleasure can be heard. We pedal faster and literally jump off our bikes to photograph these amazing flowers. We take our time at each field to soak in the beauty before our very eyes, yet knowing that there were many more fields in all colours imaginable to be discovered. The season was heavily in bloom as hyacinths and daffodils were not missing out on the spring party either. We felt unbelievably lucky to have seen at least 50 fields of flowers in full bloom in two days of cycling, no doubt ranking as one of the best times of our lives.
This month has been a whirlwind of travel activity for us. Festivals, road trips and the usual sightseeing covered across three European countries have left us little time to catch up on blogging, which explains my lack of updates. The temperatures are looking up and the worst of Europe’s fairly mild winter this year is (safe to say) over! Hurray!
We were in Portugal early this month and spent little over a week exploring the Algarve coast and up north through the cities of Lisbon and Porto. Here are some highlights:
Lagos in the Algarve coast was a standout for us. Stunning cliff faces and some of the best beaches we’ve seen in Europe propelled Lagos straight into our good books. Lagos also served up some of the best food we’ve eaten in Portugal (finger licking good peri peri chicken and delicious monkfish stew) so you can’t hardly blame us for the good time we had there.
We felt a little letdown by Lisbon having heard so much good things about it. It definitely had its charms and character but we probably had disproportionate expectations rocking up from the Algarve on a high. Lisbon did blow me away with its famous Portugese egg tarts, specifically the ones from Belem. This shop, Pasteis de Belem has been making these delicacies for decades and its reputation is unrivalled. Rightly so because they taste downright AMAZING.
Sintra, an hour’s train ride away from Lisbon is a magical place that must go into every tourist’s agenda in Portugal. It is jam packed with palaces, castles and sprawling royal estates that give this entire town an air of fairytale charm. One of our favourite sights was the Pena Palace. It is unlike any other castle we’ve seen. I’m at a loss of words to describe this palace, only that it evokes a childlike wonder within me. Not like the fairytale princess castles that I once imagined and envied, but akin to a happy place with happy colours and all sorts of fun and dreamy things like unicorns and rainbows. I guess that’s the best description I can come up with for now.
Oh, Porto! I could sigh about you all day long. Picture perfect waterfront buildings, freshly grilled fish coated with sea salt, beautiful blue skies that have us reluctant to leave and so much more. Porto stole our hearts. It was the best part of our time in Portugal. I would return to Porto in a heartbeat (ok, maybe not so soon) but I sure wouldn’t pass up the chance to visit again in the future.
Visiting Le Mont Saint Michel has been high on our to do list since we first embarked on our travels around Europe. This man made wonder is a sight to behold. Le Mont Saint Michel was built to be a beacon of hope to pilgrims all around the world since ancient Roman times and to this day attracts busloads of tourists who are intrigued by the history or just splendid architecture. The abbey perched on the top of the island is worth a meander around, but what really stayed with us was the view of Mont Saint Michel from afar. It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before.