Traveling during an economic crisis…

January 16, 2009

Despite popular belief, traveling is still quite possible during this global economic crisis. While some countries have already hit recession, it is being predicted that Australia, fortunately, will surpass it. This does not mean everything is all well and good here, though;  just today it was announced that nearly 45,000 Australians lost their jobs in the month of December, 2008, a .1% rise on previous figures. This largest monthly decline of full-time jobs since March 2003 saw the job loss tally climb to 77,000 since August, 2008.

Although, for some, these figures represent gloom and despair, if you feel confident about the security of your position and your earnings, believe it or not, now is possibly the best time for you to get out there and see the world.

During an economic downturn and recession, travel is often the first cut people make in their budgets. Given that this crisis has struck on a global level, the whole world is adjusting to suit this changing economic climate. Just like the earths’ occupants, the world of travel is also having to alter its tactics to respond to the recognized decline that an unsteady economy brings with it. Airline companies right around the globe are slashing the prices of airfares to help enhance ticket sales. Their aim is to fill seats and they will do what ever it takes in order to ensure their aircraft’s are at full capacity. They realize that if they want people to travel during this time of uncertainty, they are going to have to make you an offer you can’t refuse and that is exactly what smart travel and airline companies like STA Travel and Qantas have been doing.

Launched in December of 2008, STA Travel Australia introduced online travel auctions to their website. Similar to that of eBay, you are able to bid on a huge selection of airfares, tours, package holidays and accommodation. The best part about all of this is that every single auction begins at a crazy $1 AU. That’s right folks, just $1! This puts you in control when deciding on a maximum amount to bid. If you’re after a bargain holiday, STA’s online travel auction is definitely worth the look.

Although by now, this offer has expired, just the other day STA Travel was promoting an insane sale fare of $999 AU including taxes for a return flight from Sydney/Melbourne/Brisbane to Los Angeles, USA. In a perfect economic climate, fares like this are just unheard of. Despite the current exchange rate of $0.66 AU to $1 US, an airfare this cheap can all but make up for the loss in exchange.

In November of 2008, Qantas released a too-good-to-refuse marketing scheme in hopes to amplify its dwindling 9.3% fall in September traffic. A two-for-one ticket sale was launched by Qantas to stimulate demand for international travel. This offering allowed for a second passenger to fly for the cost of only taxes and charges; an offer which received an extremely strong response by the public. Again, in a perfect economic climate, Qantas would never, not even for a second, dream of letting a passenger fly for free.

As mentioned above, the Australian dollar has plummeted severely within the last few months after reaching an all time high in July of 2008. The Aussie dollar has dropped from a whopping $0.98 AU to $0.66 AU to the U.S. dollar. The comparison between the Aussie and U.S. dollar always seems to be the one making the news here, and while some may view this conversion as extremely unfavorable, it should be remembered that there is a whole world out there to discover; your travel plans are not just restricted to the U.S.

Try vacationing in a country with a favorable conversion rate. While these countries may cost a little bit more airfare wise, once you arrive it is a case of more bang for your buck. The Lonely Planet suggests visiting the Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Thailand, Laos, Syria, Ukraine and Uruguay. While some of these countries may seem out side of your comfort zone or perhaps not your ideal sense of vacation style, they can be a real adventure to discover. Everybody needs a little adventure in their lives; it’s good for you. Go on, surprise yourself.

Choosing to stay in a hostel over a hotel can be one of the biggest money-saving decisions of your entire vacation. Many people are under the impression that hostels only offer shared, mixed-sex dorm rooms with public facilities. Quite the opposite, actually. Many, if not all, hostels offer private rooms with a private bathroom and sometimes, if you are lucky, even a television. I spent a few nights in a hostel while staying in London, England. My main justification for choosing a hostel over a hotel was the fact that I would be spending barely any time in my room. I really just required a bed and bathroom facilities to get ready in the mornings. I recall paying £15 per night ($33 AU). If the point of your vacation is to get out there and discover the world, your accommodation really just needs to be secure, clean and quiet enough to allow you to get some peaceful shut-eye each night. Another advantage of staying in hostels are the number of people you meet and quickly become friends with from right around the globe; this could prove to be another cost-cutter for when you require future accommodation.

Without realizing it, one of the biggest money-eaters while on vacation is food. The constant eating out at restaurants or snacking in between meals quickly accumulates. Food and beverages were easily my biggest cost concern when traveling, especially through Europe as everything seems to be rather pricey there. My suggestion is to purchase snacks from the supermarket to nibble on through out the day. Don’t go to the biggest major supermarket in town either, have a wander; walk a few blocks down and you will be sure to find smaller, family-run retailers (this is especially more so common in the back streets of Europe) that charge up to half the price that the larger, tourist-infested supermarkets are charging. While in France a few friends and I got lost amongst the back streets of Paris. We came across the most beautiful produce,  freshly baked baguettes and scrumptious pastries at small, independently run stores. We only had to chip in a few Euro each and we all enjoyed a glorious picnic dinner under the Eiffel Tower. There is no way eating at a restaurant could beat that experience, or that price.

Lastly, why waste your time stressing? Your concern is not going to mend the pitiful economy nor will it prevent your country from hitting recession. If you are in the position to, get out there and see the world. After all, traveling is a form of stress relief!


STA World Travel Internship

January 13, 2009

STA TRAVEL WORLD TRAVELERS INTERNSHIPSTA Travel Australia, I have always been a loyal customer to you; never have I ventured off to Student Flights or Flight Center when in need of airfares, accommodation or travel advice. You see, I only have eyes for one travel agent, STA Travel, and that, my friend, is you! Just recently though, my love for you was tainted upon finding out that STA Travel USA has beaten you to the podium in all things cool. STA Travel Australia, I suggest you listen up and take a page out of STA Travel USA’s book. Apparently it is what all the cool kids are doing.

STA Travel is the largest student travel organization in the world. They recognize the personal growth and unique perspective that young people gain from global experiences; they believe travel changes people’s lives for the better. On the contrary, STA also recognizes the reason that most young people do not travel are finance-related issues. In order to solve this dilemma, STA Travel USA is searching for TWO World Travel Interns to traverse the globe experiencing a number of travel adventures and showcasing their experiences daily via a journal/blog, video and podcasts.

You are in with a good chance if you are able to:

– capture some incredible video footage and shoot some awesome snaps
– not embarrassed to freely interview fellow travelers and locals
– share your travel experiences to other fellow travelers through video, travel blogs and podcasts
– have the best time of your life

Unlike previous years, this time around you don’t even have to be an undergraduate student to take part; you just have to be aged 18 to 26 and hold a US passport. This is a once in a life time opportunity that will see you travel from the tropical waters of Fiji, to the red rock outback of Australia, India, Eastern Africa, Berlin, Scandinavia/Russia, Scotland and to the luscious greenery of Ireland. This is something you should not even have to think twice about.

To be in with a chance to intern for STA Travel, simply create a two to three minute video explaining why you would be the perfect World Travel Intern for 2009. To read more about this amazing prospect, you can visit the STA Travel World Intern site or visit the STA Travel site directly.

This really is a once in a life time opportunity that is too good to miss. I would eat my own sock to be able to enter into something like this! STA Travel Australia, I hope you are listening… err, reading. Learn from your overseas brother!

Applications cease on March 8, 2009 so get a-working on your video entries. What are you waiting for?

Travel Insurance Analysis

January 10, 2009

My parents are going on an overseas cruise in just under a month so I have been looking at travel insurance options for them. If you are planning to travel, insurance is an important consideration. For most, overseas travel is a rewarding experience. No one plans for things to go wrong, but unfortunately sometimes they do. Travel insurance is a great way to be prepared for such problems by providing you with security and protection whilst you are traveling domestically or internationally. While investigating the best deal at the lowest price, I decided to compare a few options and bring them over here to share. My parents will only be gone for 12 days but I wanted to conduct this investigation on a larger scale; larger in travel duration and in terms of multiple regions being visited. I will be using the dates and regions I required travel insurance for during my three month overseas adventure in 2008.

Duration of trip:
July 21 – October 14

Regions being visit:
Europe & USA –> Worldwide

Cover type:

The European tour I went on and a majority of my airfares were booked through STA Travel here in Australia, so it made sense to purchase my travel insurance through them too. The travel agent I was dealing with at STA Travel was a friend and advised me not to purchase my travel insurance through them as they were terribly over priced. She cautiously slipped me a website to check out and also suggested looking at other companies which is exactly what I did. While on the topic of STA Travel though, let’s check out their prices for my dates and region. QBE Australia are the underwriters for STA Travel’s travel insurance.

First up, the comprehensive option. This covers basically everything you could imagine from medical and loss of luggage to plane hijacking. The monetary amounts you are covered for are, in a worst case scenario, efficient and in most cases, unlimited.

STA Travel results:

Level of Excess for STA Travel comprehensive travel insurance: $250
Total Cost of STA Travel comprehensive travel insurance: $798

Ouch! Seems a bit steep. STA Travel, however, also offers a budget travel insurance option for those not so cashed up. Beware, though, this option, by no means, covers any where near as much as the comprehensive option.

Total cost of STA Travel budget travel insurance: $349


Next we look at Allianz. Allianz travel insurance is underwritten by Worldcare. Like STA Travel, they offer both a comprehensive and a budget insurance option. Allianz’ comprehensive insurance covers similar to that of STA Travel’s, both in terms of benefits and the monetary value you are covered for.


Allianz Insurance results:

Level of Excess for Allianz comprehensive travel insurance: Not indicated
Total Cost of Allianz comprehensive travel insurance: $363

That is already a $435 saving when compared to STA Travel’s comprehensive insurance. Not bad considering their plan benefits are quite similar. Allianz’ comprehensive insurance is only $14 more than STA Travel’s budget insurance! Now, let’s take a look at Allianz’ budget insurance. It must be noted though, that Allianz’ budget insurance does not cover as much as STA Travel’s budget insurance. Its main emphasis is medical benefits and that is pretty much it.

Total cost of Allianz budget travel insurance: $146


This next pricing comparison is with Travel Insurance Direct. After careful consideration, this is the company I ended up booking my travel insurance with. I came across them via an online forum discussing travel insurance options and prices. Travel Insurance Direct are underwritten by Allianz. With Travel Insurance Direct, however, instead of selecting a ‘Worldwide’ region to cover both Europe and the USA, you are asked to select the region in which you are spending the most time in. Since I was spending two months in Europe and one month in the USA, I selected Europe as my desired region. I was skeptical about this, though, as I worried what would happen if I was injured in the USA after selecting Europe. The region guide clearly states…

“When making the region selection, choose the region where the majority of your trip is going to be spent and this will also cover you for all other areas you travel to.

For example, if you are spending 3 days in Singapore, 2 weeks in the UK and 4 weeks in Europe, select ‘Europe’ as your destination and you will be covered in Singapore and the UK also.”

Even after reading this, I was sure to call the company several times to make sure this was correct, and, to my surprise, it was. I think this is what kept the price down and lower than the others I had researched. Travel Insurance Direct offers no budget insurance option, just the one comprehensive policy is offered.


Travel Insurance Direct results:

Level of Excess for TID comprehensive travel insurance: Not indicated
Total Cost of TID comprehensive travel insurance: $302

Although the total cost came to $302, upon doing some Googling, I came across some promotional codes which entitled me to receive a discount on top of this already low cost. At the time of blogging, both promotional codes are still valid. To make use of them, after you have input your travel details and received your quote, just below the quote section is a highlighted pink section that looks like this:

Travel Insurance Direct Promotional Code

When you tick the box, you are prompted to enter the promotional code. The two I have access to are:

ARTOG – Entitles you to a 5% discount off total insurance


TIDXMASPC – Entitles you to a 10% discount off total insurance
(Meant to expire Dec 31, 2008, but it still seems to be working)

ARTOG drops my quote down to $286.90 and
TIDXMASPC drops my quote down to $271.80.

That is a further $92 saving when compared to Allianz’ comprehensive travel insurance and $527 when compared to STA Travel! That is bloody awesome considering their benefit summary is so similar. Being budget conscious at the time, it is clear to see why this option was best for me. I received comprehensive cover at a budget price! Fortunately for me, I did not need to make any claims, so, unfortunately for you, I cannot tell you how good Travel Insurance Direct is when dealing with clients who do lodge claims. Considering they are underwritten by Allianz though, I am assuming they will not prove a problem if it comes to that.


One last option I want to touch on is World Nomads. World Nomads is, like Travel Insurance Direct, underwritten by Allianz Insurance. It offers a cheap form of comprehensive travel insurance, however, unlike many of the other comprehensive benefit plans, World Nomads does not offer unlimited medical and only insures up to the value of $5,000,000 for singles.


World Nomads results:

Level of Excess for World Nomads comprehensive travel insurance: $100
Total Cost of World Nomads comprehensive travel insurance: $257

Although World Nomads works out to be slightly cheaper than Travel Insurance Direct, the benefits offered and value covered is not as extreme as Travel Insurance Direct. However, if you think the benefits are more than enough to get you through your trip, then by all means, take the cheaper option. Just remember, you cannot control what happens to you while you are on vacation.



London, I love you, I really do, but you just get way too cold…

September 14, 2008

It was quite difficult saying farewell to all the amazing and wonderful people we met on Contiki. I’m convinced there were a couple of people amongst the group that I will remains friends with throughout life. Most of the group headed out the very next day we returned. I woke up early to bid them farewell. We hugged. We cried. We hugged while we cried. It was very emotional. You do not realise how attached you get to people that you have spent every minute of the last 37 days with. I am not usually an emotional person, but I cried like a baby wanting to be bottle-fed. I will see you guys again, I’m sure of it. Who knows where in the world it will be, but someday soon, we will cross paths again.

Back in London for some full-on sight seeing. When I left London to explore the rest of Europe it was warm. Six weeks later and it is absolutely bloody freezing! London, I adore you, I really do. I even considered obtaining a European passport and flying out to live and work here for a year, but why are you so friggin’ cold? Do you want me to freeze to death? Warm up, please, then I will consider re-locating for you.

There were still a few of the Contiki group remaining in London for travel or live/work related purposes so we hung out and went sight seeing together. First up was Buckingham Palace. Buckingham Palace is the official London residence of the British Monarch. Located in the City of Westminster, the Palace is a setting for state occasions and royal entertaining. It just so happens that, at the time I was there, the state dining rooms were, for the very first and last time, open to the public for viewing. This being a once in a life time opportunity, I did not hesitate one bit. The dining rooms were set up as though a royal banquet was being held. It was a spectacular sight. The maroon carpets and rugs blended nicely with the gold antiques and cutlery. I tried to picture myself there, dining amongst royalty; what a thrill it would be. Through the work that he does, my uncle had been invited by the Queen of England to dine in that very room many years ago; lucky bugger!

Me infront of Buckingham Palace

Me in front of the Tower Bridge in LondonWestminster Abbey was next on the agenda. At home, I try, whenever possible to avoid going to church, but here in Europe, I have visited so many churches and absolutely love them. The history and architecture behind them is simply superb. Hmmm… I wonder if our churches looked like this back home, would it make me attend more frequently? I have some doubts there. I took a guided head-phone tour through Westminster and while exiting through the gift store, I purchased a cross to wear on my chain, along with my dove pendant that I bought in Mondsee, Austria.

The Tower of London was next. I did not enjoy this tour as much as I would have liked to. Perhaps because it started pouring down rain mid tour, who knows? I did, however, enjoy the spectacular views of Tower Bridge from the Tower of London.

Cultural cuisine at the Notting Hill marketsUgh, so I will admit now that I am hopelessly addicted to Hugh Grant movies. He may not be the hottest male to graze this earth, but there is something about him; his witty style and sense of humor perhaps, what ever it is, he has miserably won me over. So knowing that we were going to be going to the Notting Hill markets, I had to find the address and make a stop over at the Travel Bookstore from the movie Notting Hill, and once I found it, of course, I had to take a photo of it as proof of being there. I took some wonderful snaps at the Notting Hill markets. The place was vibrant and alive with colors and so many different cultural presence.

Produce at the Notting Hill markets

The next morning Jane and I headed out to check out the London Eye. The London Eye at a height of 135 meters (443ft) is the biggest Ferris wheel in all of Europe and has become the most popular paid tourist attraction in the United Kingdom, visited by over 3 million people a year. We pre-purchased our tickets online and did not have to wait to ride the wheel. I felt a little uneasy looking down at first, because frankly, there was filthy river water below us, but I soon got use to the feeling. The views from the very top point of the London Eye looking out onto Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament were sensational. Again, I was quick to snap up some awesome shots. Later that day I went and took some photos of Big Ben and explored Piccadilly Circus.

Me on the London Eye with Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament in the background

I was still yet to cross off Madame Tussauds from my list of things to see, so that is where Jane and I headed next. oMg LyKe MiLey CyRuS’ waX FiGuRe WaS TheRe SoOoOo I NeeDed To GeT a pHoTo!!! Haha. Jane and I posed with Miley for a laugh. Jane secretly admires Miley, though, she is just yet to admit it. We were rather amused to come across the wax figure of Australia’s ex-Prime Minister, so, to be the damn proud Aussie’s that we are, we posed with him, Jane kissing one cheek and me kissing the other. Awww Johnny, shux. My time at Madame Tussauds was thoroughly enjoyed.

Jane and I kissing our home boy, Johnny Howard xoxo

London is known for its big, dazzling Westend musical stage productions, so I definitely had to make the time to check out a couple while here. Jane had never before seen The Sound of Music and had heard me go on and on and on about it so we both went and checked out the stage production of it. As you could imagine, I was terribly excited for this. We got great seats, 7th row from the stage which I was extremely happy about. The show was amazing! I sat there in my seat with a gigantic grin on my face while singing along to all the songs which I know by heart. The actors, especially Maria, did a phenomenal job. It really was nothing short of spectacular. The following day, I had Jane come over to my aunty and uncles house and we watch The Sound of Music on DVD. Jane told me she loved it, but if I told anyone that, she’d have to kill me…

Aunty was able to take some time out of her busy schedule to come and see another Westend production with me; We Will Rock You. It is based on the music of Queen but with a completely different story line. It was absolutely brilliant. I am not a huge Queen fan but I am definitely familiar with their music. The entire theatre clapped along to the songs and joined in with the lyrics. The ending was bloody awesome! I thoroughly enjoyed this stage production.

I know I was cutting it short with only one day in London remaining, but I could not have come all this way without paying a visit to Stonehenge and Bath. I went down town to the tourist information center to grab a few tour brochures and found a tour that was running at a reasonable price. I got back to my aunty and uncles house, jumped online and secured my spot in the tour group. The next morning, I woke bright and early at 5am to make my train into town and meet at the pick up point. I was off to Stonehenge and Bath!

StonehengeStonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in the English county of Wiltshire, about 3.2 kilometres west of Amesbury and 13 kilometres north of Salisbury. One of the most famous prehistoric sites in the world, Stonehenge is composed of earthworks surrounding a circular setting of large standing stones. Archaeologists had believed that the iconic stone monument was erected around 2500 BC, however one recent theory has suggested that the first stones were not erected until 2400-2200 BC, whilst another suggests that bluestones may have been erected at the site as early as 3000 BC. Seeing this monument in person was amazing. How those men, way back BC were able to move such gigantic stones without the technology and equipment we have available to us today is beyond me!

The Roman Baths in Bath, England, is one of the only natural hot water baths still existing today. Most Roman cities had at least one, if not many, such buildings, which were centers of public bathing and socializing. Baths were extremely important for Romans. They stayed there fore several hours and went daily. Wealthier Romans were accompanied by one or more slaves. After paying a fee, they would strip naked and wear sandals to protect their feet from heated floors. Before bathing, patrons exercised. They did such things as running, mild weight-lifting, wrestling and swimming. After exercising, servants scraped off oil and dirt. After exploring the Roman Baths, I ventured throughout the city of Bath to explore its inner beauty. It really was a cute little town.

My train home got delayed. Not good considering my uncle had booked me a chauffeur to pick me up from his house at 9pm. I had to call uncle and ask him if he could pick me up from the station and drive me back to his house. My last ride in his Porsche, how sad. I ran right up stairs, made sure everything was packed, bid aunty and uncle farewell and off I went to my hotel at Heathrow airport. I had a super king-sized double bed all to myself. My room was luxury. I had a wonderful nights rest in preparation for a 5am wake up and 8am flight out to the United States of America.

Two months in Europe went by way too fast. I absolutely loved every minute spent in London, England. I really do adore the city and I hope to return some time soon. I’m not quite sure I could ever love England, the way I do, the USA though. Tomorrow will be my third time returning to a country I would like to one day make my home.

Ah USA, how I love thee.

“But mum, it’s legal in Amsterdam…”

August 30, 2008

Amsterdam, or, as we have learned to refer to it as, Amsterdamage is a vibrant and radiant city of the Netherlands. Amsterdam is the fifth most popular tourist destination in all of Europe and after stepping foot into this city, it is not hard to see why. The red light district houses countless sex shops, sex theatres, peep shows, erotic museums and brothels. As if all this isn’t already enough to make a city exciting, there is of course, the added bonus of the legalization of marijuana. I am by no means a pot-head. I don’t even touch the stuff back at home, but since we are in Amsterdam, and it is legal, I guess I have to add it to my list of things to do.

Our first day is spent riding old granny bikes through the back streets and down the canals of Amsterdam. During one of our rest points, our bike tour guide tells us that the grassy areas by the sides of the canal are called “dykes”. She then proceeds to tell us to “stick our fingers in the dykes” so that we can tell everybody back home what a wonderful experience we had “fingering dykes” in Amsterdam. Pretty sick, if you ask me. But sure enough, she cracked a giggle and a smirk out of me. The bike ride was not strenuous and was rather enjoyable.

The gang with our grandma bikes out by the windmill in Amsterdam

Hot clog dude making clogsWe are taken to watch a traditional clog making presentation. Clogs are a type of shoe or sandal made predominately out of wood and are a traditional item amongst the Dutch. The clog-maker was able to whip up a pair from scratch within minutes; quite impressive, as were his looks. I bought some miniature clogs as souvenirs for my grandparents and I. They were so cute, I couldn’t help myself.

That night we got told we were going to a surprise activity. I had a hunch for what it would be, and decided to sign up to tag along. Our group gathered and got shown to our seats in a small theater. Unfortunately, I was split up from the rest of the girls and was given front row, dead center. Dun, dun, dun, DUNNNN!

The “fill-in” act comes out on to the stage while the crowd settles in before the main action begins. It is a semi-attractive skinny, blonde girl wearing barely anything at all. She is smoking a cigar. I lean over to Suzi on my right and whisper to her “I bet she’s going to smoke rings with that thing… not from her mouth, though…” She lays down on the floor and positions herself with her legs clipped behind her head. Alas, I was right. Oh dear. At this moment I thank God for my bad eye sight and for not reminding me to bring my glasses along. We have been brought to a sex show!

Throughout the night we are allowed several drinks which were included in our ticket price. This dampens what is going on right in front of me, helping make it a tad more amusing rather than frightening. Act after act after act, a couple come out and have sex on a rotating stage right before my very eyes; in every position imaginable and some I never thought were quite possible. Every last shred of my innocence is lost right here, right now, at a Dutch sex show.

After the show is over we go to the Grasshopper which is a recommended “coffee shop” by our travel leader. Coffee shops in Amsterdam are where people are able to purchase joints and brownies then go into a little room to smoke/consume their marijuana; it is absolutely and totally legal. I was actually surprised to see people in their sixties, seventies perhaps, smoking bongs and joints out back. I tried to picture my grandma smoking pot. I could not process the image. Way too strange.

The next morning we awoke early as we were extremely keen to make our way over to Anne Franks house. Anne Frank was a Jewish girl born in the city of Frankfurt, Germany in 1929. Anne and her family moved to Amsterdam in 1933 after the Nazis gained power in Germany. As prosecutions against the Jewish population increased, Anne’s family went into hiding in July of 1942 in hidden rooms in her father, Otto Frank’s office building. After two years, the family was betrayed and transported to concentration camps. Seven months after her arrest, Anne Frank died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Her father, Otto, the only surviving family member returned to Amsterdam after the war to find that Anne’s diary has been saved, and his efforts led to its publication in 1974; “The diary of Anne Frank.” After getting lost, we eventually found our way there just before the line started to rapidly grow. The house we were about to step foot in held so much history. Knowing I was about to walk through the same corridors that Anne Frank once had left me feeling a tad weird and spooked.

Me about to enter behind the wsecret book case which hid the entrance into the Frank's secret household
Tonight is our last night together as a Contiki group before we head back to London and go our separate ways. We have a canal river cruise together where we enjoy snapping many last photos with each other whilst dining on cheap champagne; such class. It was enjoyable, but rather sad knowing that our 37 day European Adventure was coming to an end. 37 days have flown way too fast! After our cruise, we are free to have dinner where ever we choose. Our group decides to eat at the Sea Palace restaurant. It is a traditional Chinese restaurant so I make use of my minimal Mandarin skills to communicate with our waiter. Through out the night I greet her, thank her several times and wish her farewell in Mandarin. I think she is rather impressed to see an Australian white girl speaking Chinese!

Jade, myself and Jess outside the Sea Palace restaurant at sunset

Back to the Grasshopper we go. Amsterdam, you are amazing.

There’s a first time for everything…

August 26, 2008

And today, for the first time ever, I finally saw snow! Never before in my life have I seen snow. I live in Melbourne, Australia. It never really drops below maybe 6 decrees Celsius in winter (43 degrees Fahrenheit). We never, ever get snow. You have to drive a fair way out of Melbourne to find snow up in the mountains and since I’m not a fan of freezing cold weather, I just never made the effort.

But wait, what is that you say? Aren’t you traveling Europe in summer? Well, yes, but I am now in Switzerland, you see, and located in Switzerland is Jungfraujoch; the highest mountain peak in all of Europe with 100% guaranteed snow and ice all year round. Despite my unfavoritism towards cold weather, I have always wanted to frolic and play in the snow, just once to say I have, and what better place to experience it than Switzerland!?!

We boarded the cog railway train from where we were staying to get up to where we had to go. The train was old and slow and the journey up was long and cold; I think it may have taken us an hour and a half to make it up to Jungfrau. The scenery along the way up was simply stunning. Breathtaking views were observed in silence as many of us could simply not believe the beautiful scenery that was on the other side of the glass. Many a time I caught myself just sitting in my seat, glaring out the window and smiling happily to myself.

Mel and I on the cog railway going up to Jungfrau
When we stepped foot off the train it was freezing. I had never experience negative temperatures in my life until now. I had to allow my body to get use to such temperatures and I also had to figure out a new breathing pattern. We were so high up that my normal pattern of breathing was causing me some discomfort. The air was thick and cold. I took bigger, deeper breaths till I adjusted to this new climate. We wondered around the building the train had dropped us off at, trying to find our way out. We were all very excited and keen to get outside and experience the snow. The Canadians that were with us thought it was rather hilarious that so many of us Aussie’s were thrilled to be experiencing something they have grown accustom to. There and then, we spotted an exit. Out we went, like a flock of caged birds finally being released into the wild. It was phenomenally stunning. The cliffs that were semi-covered in snow looked beautiful. The thick blanket of whiteness went on for miles and miles. I couldn’t believe it. After 22 years, I was finally stepping foot on snow!

Jess, Jade, Mel and myself on Jungfrau in Switzerland
I did everything you would expect a six year old to do when taken to the snow; I jumped in it; I threw myself into a heap of it; I made snow balls and threw them at my mates when they least expected it; I made a snow angel and got terribly soaked while in the process and last, but not least, I built a snowman. Yes, a snowman. Possibly the greatest snowman in the history of snowmen. In fact, our snowman was so cool, tourists were coming up to us and asking if they could have their photos taken with him; that is just how cool our snowman was. We named him Snowman, Mr. Snowman.

Me making a snow angel_Me posing with Snowman, Mr. Snowman

Despite the freezing conditions, we were so high up that the sun was blazing down on us so we were quick to get quite warm and had to strip some of our layers off. After playing for hours in the snow, Mel and I broke up from the rest of the group and went to check out the Ice Palace. Yes, there is a palace made entirely of ice. There were walls, rooms and ice-carved animals. It was pretty impressive stuff. We decided we better make out way back to the train station as we still had another one and a half hour train ride ahead of us to get back to our accommodation.

That night back at camp we sampled a local traditional dish. Do you, ummm, fondue? Fondue is a Swiss communal dish shared at the table in a pot over a small burner. The term is derived from the French verb fondre (to melt), in the past particulate fondu (melted). Diners use forks to dip bits of food (most often bread) into the warm semi-liquid sauce (commonly a cheese mix). I had never had fondue before and without trying to be funny, I was rather fond of it 😉 It tasted delicious!

We headed back to our rooms to get ready for tonight’s party. We were having an 80’s themed dress up party down at the bomb-shelter bar. We did not have warning or time to go out and buy props so we had to make do with the same stuff we had been carrying around in our suitcases for the past six weeks. Our group looked pretty dang funky. We started pre-drinking back at our rooms while getting ready so by the time we made our way over to the bomb-shelter, we were well and truly ready to party!

The gang all dressed up and ready to party for 80's night in Switzerland

Switzerland is one of my most favorite countries so far.

Hallo! Guten Morgen!

August 24, 2008

Wie geht’s dir? Was gibt’s Neues?

How are you? What’s new?

Where in the world is Lynda? Well, at the moment I am in Munich, Germany. This blog will be short and sweet because we are not here for too long.

The entry gate into Dachau Concentration CampOn the way into Munich yesterday we stopped in at Dachau Concentration Camp. Dachau was a Nazi German concentration camp, and the first opened in Germany, located on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory near the medieval town of Dachau. We had free time to explore the camp site which was rather spooky and chilling. I could just picture what was happening there so many years back when the Jews were being held captive against their will. The most creepiest of experiences was walking into the room that housed the kilns they used to burn the Jews in. Curse my vivid imagination, because at that moment, such horrible images ran through my head. I could almost hear the cries and screams of the helpless children and mothers behind that wall, oblivious to what was about to happen to them. Bless their souls.

Just before dinner we stopped to view the Glockenspiel. We were not there at the right time to experience it go off, but apparently it is an extraordinary sight. We were off to the Beer Hall for dinner. I was looking extremely forward to this. The beer glasses in Germany are massive mug-like cups. The German ladies can carry up to ten of these mugs at the one time. They are not light, either, I struggled to lift my own mug, let alone ten. I have no idea how they did it. It was an amazing sight. They bring them to the table then let them go, and due to the weight of the mugs, they make a big bang onto the table top. I am not a big beer fan, however, I forced myself to down the entire beer, just to say that I did it! Dinner was absolutely delicious. Pork knuckle. Yum. The crackling was to-die-for and the pork itself tasted scrumptious. Again, mum, I am sorry, but my God it was slightly better than yours… sorry, do not hurt me, I repeat, do not hurt me. Every few minutes in between dinner, this German man would jump onto the microphone and sing this song in German and we would all have to scream “PROBST” (Cheers in German) and smash our beer mugs together. Too much fun.

Me struggling to down my German mug of beer!