Hello everybody, it’s been a long while and I’m sorry for that. I’ve had a crazy year. A big year. A year of change. I finished up my work in finance in Sydney in March last year, and then in April left Sydney for an extended period of travel, and have been kind of on the road ever since. It’s been good. We’ve settled for the last six months or so in London, over winter.
First off, Jess and I stopped in Japan for almost a month. If you have read this blog before you’d know that I really love Japan. Totemo suki wa Nihon. We wanted to really sink into it a bit and explore some areas we’ve never been to before. I always say to first timers to Japan that you basically have to focus on the big stuff first to start to understand Japan, before you can really start to explore the rest of the country, which is a shame because there is so much regional cultural differences and range of natural beauty on this archipelago. Luckily, we’ve done Tokyo / Osaka / Kyoto before and all the main attractions within them, so this time in Japan was really about just getting into it and exploring on a deeper level, I think.
We spent a week straight up in Kōenji, Tōkyō. Probably our favourite suburb in Tokyo. Full of record stores, vintage clothes, tiny bars, amazing street food. It’s a rabbit warren as well. Little alleyways criss crossing in every direction, rarely do cars find their way down these bustling pedestrian streets. I’ll try to get to more detail about our time in Tokyo in a separate post, this one is going to be long enough as it is.
After Tokyo, we flew down to Fukuoka (missed our first flight of the trip after a week :/ ), on the Southern island of Kyushu, previously known as Hakata. We spent some time on Kyushu, a week or so, visiting the Onsen mountains on the east coast – Beppu, Yufuin, Oita prefecture. This was about a week after the gigantic earthquakes hit the region next door, so it was quite interesting to be there. Again, another post, another time.
Leaving the island of Kyushu, we headed back north to the main island of Honshu, towards Hiroshima, which I have always wanted to visit, and which Jess was a little apprehensive about. We both, however, absolutely loved it. It is a very interesting, very pleasant city, and the peace and tranquility that is present at the peace park where the atomic bomb was detonated is like nothing else.
On the way however, we stayed in a little mountain village/town called Onomichi, overlooking the Seto Insland Sea. A truly spectacular, different place.
Post-Hiroshima, we travelled further north to the Kansai region of Osaka and Kyoto, where we met up with our friend Saki (who now lives in Sydney!). Then, back to Tokyo, meeting up with another friend of mine Dragon (Ryu). During this time in Tokyo we also took a day trip to nearby Hakone with it’s beautiful lake and mountains.
I feel like I’m rushing through this post, rushing through the year. I think it’s the only way to get a post like this done though. I’ll try to expand on each of these places given time, but for now if you want more information / pictures you can see it all at The Travelling Pair.
So goodbye Japan, hello UK. This was to be my first time ever in the UK, and we landed and spent two magical summer weeks in London, which was amazing. The weather was beautiful and the city was full of life. I have since spent an entire London winter here and now feel somewhat … different about the place. Before we get to that though, there’s another 5 months or so of travelling to get through.
We hired a car for a few weeks and drove west, via Stonehenge towards Bath, Bristol and the Cotswolds. Lots of fun was had with old and new friends in Bristol (thanks Zinny!), and the Cotswolds are probably the quaintest collection of towns and hills on earth. Going north now, we took a look at Oxford and spent some time in Northern Wales, at the picturesque Llangollen. The weather continued to be absolutely, unexpectedly, amazing. Incredible even. Wales was great – I do recommend it.
Continuing northeast now, we cruised through Chester and Manchester, across the neck of England towards Yorkshire, a truly beautiful area. York, Harrogate, Hull – all different, all very interesting, all very much not London. The population starts to thin around here, and as you head north, the hills grow larger, the green gets more vivid, the rocks get sharper.
North west – the Lake District, England’s #1 holiday destination, for a reason. A mountainous, lake-filled area with stunning sunsets and old, old, old villages made of slate. Wilderness almost, except for the tourists. After this we continued North, stopping at the ancient Hadrian’s Wall before crossing over into the great country of Scotland. Eventually, we hit Edinburgh after a long drive, and for the next three or four days we were blown away by it. It’s still one of my favourite European cities. Running up to Arthur’s Seat at the top of an extinct volcano in the middle of the city – an experience I’ll never forget.
Our Scottish experience continued through the highlands via Inverness – Loch Ness etc. Glen Coe, however, was the real show stealer. You may remember this area from the movie Skyfall. Eventually we arrived in rainy, windy and cold Glasgow – and after the highlands and Edinburgh we were pretty disappointed. Some nice architecture, but… meh.
I am still conscious of how much I am racing through this post, again I apologise. There’s a lot more to get through still. We got rid of the rental car here and caught a bus and a ferry over the water to Belfast Northern Ireland, where we were confronted by a vibrant city with conflict simmering under the surface. Belfast is one of the cities that we didn’t expect to love, but surprisingly we did. We took a black cab ride through the areas affected by the religious / political divide, which was eye opening – as was the level of heavily armed police/army present in the city.
From Belfast we took a day trip around the Antrim Coast and the Giant’s Causeway which was spectacular – another highlight of the trip. So majestic, so beautiful. After Belfast we took a coach south to Dublin in the Republic, where we picked up a car and drove immediately south west to Killarney – classic, traditional Ireland. We drove around the Ring of Kerry to get a real taste of what Ireland is all about and let me tell you, it was worth it. Ireland is great. After a few days we returned to Dublin to actually see the city. Dublin is cool and lively. A bit cold for us though. Even though it was summer.
At this point, we had been away for about two months. About one in Japan, about one in UK / Ireland. A bit more. Finally however, it was time to head to the continent and get back to my beautiful Europe. I love Europe. So we flew from Dublin to Munich, Germany. I learnt German at school and ever since I’ve loved the idea of being able to speak it. Which I can’t, really. Anyway, of course, Munich had perfect weather the whole week we were there – 30-33 degrees every day, sun shining (with occasional thunderstorms, just like home). We hung out a lot at the Englisher Garten – swimming in the fast moving and cold Eisbach river was amazing. What a Bavarian paradise Munich is. We even got to meet and hang out with some lovely locals, David and Denisa, which was great.
From Munich to Vienna is a pretty logical step, if you’re going south, which we were. We’d both been before but decided to revisit as it’s one of our favourite cities. It’s the most beautiful city in the world, hands down – but to see it in the height of summer with really hot weather was another thing altogether. Being able to meet up with friends in the city was really awesome too – cheers Valentin! He showed us the vineyards around the hills on the edge of the city – something amazing we never would have discovered without him. I think you might be noticing a theme here – travelling is better when you know people in various places.
Vienna to Bratislava, Slovakia. The closest capital cities in the world, and what a stark difference. Bratislava is cheap, crumbling and ex-soviet. Regardless, it’s a great place to visit and we had a lot of fun there for a few days, before heading all the way west across the entire country of Austria before hopping off the train in Innsbruck. In Innsbruck we stayed with our friends Verena and Tom, who showed us some spectacular mountain hikes and lakes in the Tyrolean alps. I keep saying this a lot, but another highlight of the trip. Amazing.
After Innsbruck, we cruised through Liechtenstein for a few hours to tick a micro-country off the list, before getting ourselves to Zürich, a place I’ve always wanted to go. And I was well rewarded with yet another incredibly beautiful alpine city that doesn’t seem like it could actually have been a real place – surely it was just a dream. Swimming in the Limmat river and Lake Zurich in 30+ degree weather was amazing. Switzerland is now one of my favourite countries. We stayed with friends in Zurich too – Alex and Reto, and had some amazing Raclette with them (apparently no one does this in summertime, but we did). Zurich, what a place.
To the Swiss Alps now, another place I had yearned to go for a long, long time. I don’t know if I can even put it into words. Oeschinensee Lake, Interlaken, Lauterbrunnen, Adelboden, Grindelwald… Speechless beauty. This is probably the best place in Europe, really. The people who live here must surely realise that.
And so now we come to the end of our German-speaking part of the trip – for we are about to cross the alps and arrive on the other side in glorious Italia. First point of call: Lake Como, staying in the somewhat grimy and not-so-glamourous town of Como. It was good though, to explore the lake from – Bellagio, Lenno, Villa Del Balbionello – all stunning places.
Continuing on in Northern Italy, we stopped at Verona and cruised around Italy’s largest lake, Lake Garda, before heading to Modena & Maranello to drive Ferraris (for real), and then Bologna to eat some great food and meet up with our mate Tristan. After some time spent in hot, dirty, tasty Bologna we headed to the coast – to Rimini, for a swim, before we caught a coach up into the mountains to yet another micro-country, San Marino. We didn’t know much about it before, but after staying in an Airbnb with Simone, a local, we were able to see some really nice parts of the country. Combined with the medieval fortress-like city on top of the mountain, this country was yet again unexpectedly amazing. Highly recommended.
After San Marino, we headed to Florence for a few days to relax and eat and drink and say goodbye to Tristan, before we caught a plane to the south of Italy – Bari, Puglia. We stayed in a little seaside town called Monopoli for almost two weeks – swimming, eating, drinking, living the Italian life like they do in southern Italy. It was great. We were joined by my good friend Ivan during this time – and also had the opportunity to explore other places in Puglia, like Otranto, Gallipoli, Alberobello – very unique places.
Afterwards, we drove west to Matera, an ancient city set in the side of a canyon, built up upon early cave dwellings. We then continued west and drove all the way to Reggio, Calabria, on the toe of the boot of Italy – Sicily is just across the water, so close you can almost touch it. Reggio is beautiful and laid back and stylish and old. A very underrated place if you ask we. We caught a ferry across the straight, to Sicily, landing in Messina, before driving all the way to the west coast of Sicily to a little fishing town called Trapani. This area of Sicily was almost deserted, and amazingly beautiful. Some spots around this area had the clearest water we’ve ever seen – and the Aegadian islands of Levanzo and Favignana just off the coast were from a dream – so beautiful.
Palermo, the capital of Sicily was the next stop, where we were joined by my parents! This was awesome. We stayed in old, old Palermo for a few days before heading back to the east coast of Sicily to Taormina – also a very very old place, originally settled by the greeks and still containing an ancient greek amphitheater. Here, my parents headed back to Australia (before Palermo they had been in Europe for a few weeks already), and we flew ourselves to Madrid, the centre of Spain. Another unexpectedly grand and beautiful city. We stayed in a hostel and met a whole bunch of really cool people who we hung out, ate and drank with. Madrid is such a nice place – I think it often gets overlooked in favour of Barcelona but it is definitely worth a visit. It’s very hot though. Like the rest of Spain.
From Madrid we caught a plane to Porto, in the north of Portugal, again staying in a hostel, again meeting lots and lots of cool people who we are still friends with now, from all over the world. Porto is a hilly city filled with incredible architecture and food. The vibe of Portugal is immediately apparent, and so different from Spain & Italy. It’s a nice vibe, let me tell you. Lisbon was next, with little day trips to Sintra and Cascais nearby.
Post-Lisbon was the beautiful southern Algarve region of Portugal – basing ourselves in Lagos we hit a lot of beaches, met up with our german friends, my mate Mitch from back home, and made new friends. We saw Sagres, the south western corner of Europe, the last point of land the Portuguese explorers would see before they set off across the sea.
Finally, we headed back to Germany, to spend about a month in Berlin, which is now probably my favourite city in Europe. It’s a lot of fun. Whilst we were here we were applying for our two year visas to come live and work in the UK. It’s a comfortable and cheap city to wind down in. Friends Ivan and Alan came to visit us for a week in Berlin, and we met up with Mitch once again. We also took little side trips to Potsdam and Bremen, both beautiful old German cities.
And now we come to the title of the post. I live in London now. After Berlin we took our now overflowing backpacks to London to hibernate and bunker down for the winter (this was October). Settling back into regular working life after travelling for six months is a very difficult thing to accomplish, especially in a new city / country, with few connections, starting from the bottom. Our first week we were lucky enough to be able to stay at our friend Kevin’s place in Walthamstow, North East London. Then for two weeks we moved to Brixton, on Airbnb, before moving to Clapham Junction for another two weeks, before finally settling down in a share house in Fulham (SW6), where we’ve been ever since (5 months now). It’s been a hell of a ride. London is a giant place, filled with people. So many people. And the weather in winter is like nothing I’ve ever been exposed to. I’ve had plenty of snow experience, but this is a different kind of bitter cold. When the sun sets at 4pm it can be brutal. Now, as I write this, it’s the beginning of Spring and everything is starting to look up again – the weather and the sun really do affect your mood.
Since I’ve been in London, I’ve taken advantage of it’s amazing location to visit a variety of nearby countries – I’ve been to Amsterdam, Wales, Luxembourg, Stockholm and Belgium, and Jess has been to Morocco, Salzburg and Versailles as well. Return flights to most of these places from London can be had for less than a hundred pounds! I always used to think it is crazy that people who live in London don’t go away every weekend. However now that I have lived here, and have gone away, I realise that actually doing a weekend trip is not as a cheap as just the plane ticket – and living in London doesn’t leave you with much spare cash anyway! Still, I manage to visit another country at least every month, if not more often. And I’m glad about that.
I think I’ll leave it at that for now. I’ll go more into detail about my London life another time, and hopefully more detail about some of the cool places I’ve visited along the way as well.