The most rewarding 679 days of our lives

Two years ago we sold almost all our belongings, packed up our modest home and left Sydney for an adventure of a lifetime. It wasn’t a decision made overnight. It was calculated, planned and executed over the course of at least 3 years, leading up to the day we left Sydney. Many believed in us, but some gave up on us long before we came home. We traveled to amazing places we used to only dream of going, experienced so many highs and a fair share of lows in our journey and met so many interesting people, some we plan on keeping as lifelong friends. We started off together, eager and came home together, stronger.

We have been back in Sydney for almost 2 months now. Life has caught up with us again, and we are back in the mundane routine of work, commuting, bills and society. In short, we are back to being “busy”.

It is incredibly difficult to summarise my thoughts and feelings about our entire travel experience in one post. I have drafted this blog post a hundred times over in my head and none felt ‘final’. I have come to learn that there can’t be one, as I am still reaping from my travels long after it’s over. I will have the rest of my life to regurgitate the memories, stories and faces, slowly digest them and find strength, meaning and purpose from these moments for my present and future.

But for now, I am contented. I am still young, but I feel filled like an old lady who has seen and done much.

“A long life is not a question of years. A man without memories might reach the age of a hundred and feel that his life had been a very brief one” – Graham Greene from ‘Travels with my aunt’

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Sunrise in Bagan, Myanmar, one of the very last places we visited.

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Where the last 6 months of travel have taken us (Part II)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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…).

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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London’s calling!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Paris, Je T’aime

IMG_6004-tileAs I’m writing this we are in the midst of packing up our bags again, signifying the end of the first leg of our trip. We’ve booked train tickets to Provence which is our next destination. I’m excited to see what Provence has to offer, but at the same time feeling a bittersweet tinge for leaving Paris, the city I’ve come to adore. We’ve spent a total of 6 weeks exploring, living and getting to know Paris and to a certain extent, its inhabitants. Six weeks is nothing in the grand scheme of life, but I think it’s safe to say that we’re leaving with a good idea of what’s beautiful in Paris, what’s not and whether we will be back (the answer is yes to the latter, fingers crossed!)

To reflect back on every significant moment is impossible but for starters, I’m happy to have covered all but one item on my Paris Bucket List. The bucket list was fun to tick off and some of the highlights of our trip were in the bucket list, for example celebrating Bastille Day.

I’ve narrowed down 3 of my favourite things to do in Paris which was a tough challenge but fun to come up with :

1. Cycling in Paris – cycling fast became our usual mode of transport and it’s easy, fun and cheap (except for those darn hills in the left bank!)

2. Walking, cycling, reading, picnic-ing or just sitting by the Seine – the evenings where we just wander down the Seine a short distance from home are some of my favourite moments. Balmy temperatures, lots of people watching and generally a great summer vibe. It felt like a weekend every single evening.

3. Checking out every boulangerie I stumble across and comparing prices of croissants- have you heard of the Big Mac index? Well, I was attempting to do so by judging from the prices of croissants in different boulangeries across town. It ranges from 0.90Eur to 1.50Eur, and though I’ve not tried every single croissant in town, it gave us a pretty good idea on whether that part of town is pricey or not (and no, the cost does not reflect the taste as I’ve come to learn from a 0.90Eur croissant).

I’ve also come up with my top 3 favourite places to go in Paris:

1. Le Marais in the 3rd and 4th arrondissements – cool, quirky boutiques, narrow streets and some of the most stylish Parisians congregate here. Le Marais is also a 5 minute walk from our apartment which unsurprisingly became our usual hang out spot.

2. Canal Saint-Martin – understated, chilled out and unpretentious, the canal is the less touristy option compared to the Seine. I remember one warm Friday night cycling down the road parallel to the Canal and just being blown away by the number of people sitting by the canal in groups or pairs, just chilling out and enjoying the night with a picnic by their side.

3. The Seine, of course- as touristy as it is, it will never grow old and you get some of the best views of Paris as you walk across one of the many bridges over the river.

Until next time, Paris because we will surely be back!

Pictures above from my Instagram, capturing special moments from the last 6 weeks in Paris.