A weekend in Rome

Taking a European city break in a pandemic

I thought I’d pause on recounting my memories of a pre-pandemic trip to New Zealand for a one off post on an unexpected trip I took to Rome last weekend. Not unexpected because it was unplanned – quite the opposite in fact – but unexpected because having had various other trips I’d had planned for this year cancelled, I never once thought this one would actually go ahead with the way things currently are.

On board my Jet2 flight to Rome

The trip had been planned many months ago as a long weekend away for my friend’s 40th birthday. We’d booked return flights from Birmingham airport and a hotel a just a few metro stops out of Rome city centre but as the situation with the global pandemic continued, we became less and less confident of the trip happening so decided against booking any tours or attractions in case we didn’t have time to cancel and get refunded.

As September came to an end, Italy remained on the UK’s travel corridor list, meaning we’d not have to quarantine upon return from a trip there. But in the week leading up to our Friday departure date, as Covid cases in Italy continued to steadily rise, rumours began to circulate in the media that it was sure to be added to the UK’s quarantine list when it got it’s weekly update.

As the list is updated on a Thursday evening, this would not give us much time to cancel or rearrange things and it was a stressful day waiting to find out whether our early morning departure the next day would go ahead or not.

Luckily, Italy was saved for another week and I had to rush to pack for a trip I never thought would actually go ahead!

Outside the Colosseum and below, going inside the Colosseum on a previous visit to Rome.

Friday morning we were up early and at the airport the standard 2 hours before our 8am departure. It was the first time I’d travelled abroad since the World began to lock down in March and only the third trip abroad I’d taken this year following two February half term trips, one to Milan and one to Disneyland Paris. Little had changed about the airport experience except for having to wear face coverings everywhere unless sat down at the restaurants and cafes and despite less flights meaning less people, the queues through security didn’t move any quicker as there were a lot less lanes open.

Once in the departure lounge, I just had about time to munch down a bacon sandwich from Costa and buy a bottle of water from Boots before we had to make our way to the gate for boarding.

We were flying with Jet2, an airline I’d never flown with before. We were all on the same booking but despite being sat in the same row, had been given the middle and aisle seat on the left of the row and the seat across the aisle on the right meaning my friend in the middle seat was sat next to someone she didn’t know in the window seat and I was sat next to a couple I didn’t know across the aisle. I was surprised that with things as they are, that more effort wasn’t made to seat parties in the same bubble together rather than next to random strangers.

Roman ruins at the Forum
View of the Roman Forum and below, visiting the Forum on a previous trip to Rome

Our masks had to be worn throughout the 2.5 hour flight unless eating or drinking and we were encouraged to stay in our seats as much as possible with queuing in the aisle for the toilet no longer permitted. I was surprised to see that there were magazines, menus and safety cards tucked into the pouch in front of each seat as usual for us to flick through during the flight especially as no sanitiser was being provided by the airline.

Luckily I’d taken my own bottle on board in my handbag which I used regularly throughout the flight.

Even though signs up around Fiumicino Airport said arrivals would be subject to temperature tests, we only had to clear passport control once we’d landed. We had had to fill in a declaration form on the plane saying that we hadn’t tested positive for Covid in the last 14 days but this was collected in by the flight attendants to hand in upon arrival on behalf of all the passengers.

Above and below, visiting Palatine Hill on a previous trip to Rome

We had booked a private taxi transfer to our hotel and the driver was waiting for us at arrivals. We had to gel our hands before touching the seat belts and like in the UK, our masks had to stay on for the journey. As we travelled, the driver informed us that due to rising Covid case numbers, from noon that day it had been made mandatory in Rome and the region of Lazio to wear face coverings at all times, inside and out, and it would be enforced by fine from midnight.

Throughout the weekend, we saw police and military out in force on the streets of Rome blowing their whistles and shouting at the few people who may have removed their masks but overall, there was 99% compliance everywhere we went.

The National Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II and below, getting a bit closer on a previous trip

Our hotel was a bit of a hidden gem. A bed and breakfast hidden on the seventh floor of an apartment block in the Garbatella suburb, we were mildly worried when we pulled up to a slightly run down looking side street. But after following the instructions we’d been sent to navigate our way through the rather high-tech, keyless and contactless locking system, we found ourselves in a really lovely, clean and spacious hotel room.

The room lead out into a common area which we assumed would normally be where breakfast was served. Instead, breakfast was a selection of pre-packaged goodies in our room, such as croissants and cookies, which were topped up daily when our room was serviced. We had a coffee machine and coffee pods in our room and a kettle lay out in the common area next to a bottle of sanitiser and wipes although, despite teabags being provided, as I often find the case in Europe, there was no sign of any milk for my tea and I had to buy some from the local convenience store!

A quiet Trevi Fountain

After settling in and freshening up, we headed straight out for the afternoon walking straight down the main road to Garbatella station. The area seemed very authentically Italian with office workers and locals filling the tables at pavement cafes and shopping at the neighbourhood stores and market stands. It was a 10-15 minute walk to the station where we bought a 72-hour travel pass for 18 euros and then caught the metro just 3 stops to Colosseo, the stop for the Colosseum.

Crowds at the Trevi Fountain on a previous visit to Rome

As we exited the station, the impressive, ancient Colosseum building immediately loomed in front of us. Having been to Rome twice before, the first time spending almost a week properly exploring and the second time spending 24 hours just passing through, I had toured the Colosseum before. That time, we had walked to the quieter and less visited Palatine Hill to buy tickets allowing us entry to three sites (Palatine Hill, the Roman Forum and the Colosseum) and were then able to skip the line upon visiting the Colosseum later that day. The building was just as impressive from the inside as the outside and I found it fascinating to find out about what it would have been like to be there all that time ago attending a huge event.

The Spanish Steps

This time, we admired the building from the outside taking plenty of photos and fending off ticket touts and tour guides trying to convince us to buy from them, eventually replying to them all with a standard “we’ve already toured it” in order for them to leave us alone!

Aperitivo in Testaccio

From the Colosseum, we walked past the ruins of the Roman Forum. Again, having visited before, we didn’t venture in this time. On my first visit to Rome, it had been an extremely hot August day when I had visited the Forum straight after spending a few hours wandering through the sun-drenched ruins of Palatine Hill. Tired, hot and in need of shade and water, I’m not sure I had fully appreciated what I had seen there with one ruin starting to look like the rest and I’d like to go back sometime and maybe tour both of these places with a tour guide rather than wander through myself. Today, we just took photos of the ruins from the viewing point before continuing on towards the Vittorio Emanuele II National Monument.

Cacio e Pepe at Felice a Testaccio restaurant

This monument is one of the buildings that stands out the most to me from my memories of my first visit to Rome. Taking the open top tour bus from our Termini area hotel, I always remember rounding a corner and suddenly seeing this white, marble building glittering bright in the sunshine and everyone on board simultaneously gasping at the sight of it. Relatively modern compared to the ancient Roman buildings scattered around the city – construction didn’t being until 1885 – it’s classical architecture and sheer size still stands out as a beautiful must-see building in the city. It is free to enter the building but with the current restrictions there was a long queue so we didn’t stay on this occasion.

Hugo Spritz cocktails

Next, we walked along Via del Corso, eventually turning off the main road to follow signs to the Trevi Fountain and grabbing a sandwich and drink from a small cafe along the way. The last time I had visited Rome, the Trevi Fountain was covered with scaffolding while restoration work took place and the first time I had visited, it was difficult to get anywhere near it with the huge crowds of tourists filling the square. Today, I was please to find it was a lot quieter and we were easily able to spend some time admiring the beauty of the sculpture and getting our photos.

Our final stop of the afternoon was at the Spanish Steps as we passed through to get to the metro station. Deciding not to climb the steps today, we took a few photos then caught the train back to our hotel to get ready for an evening out.

The Pyramid of Cestius

We began our evening by meeting with a friend who lives in Rome near her Piramide area flat, one metro stop from where we were staying in Garbatella. From here, we took a short walk to Piazza Testaccio, a small square surrounded by bars and cafes where locals would purchase their ‘aperativo’ – drinks served with bite size snacks – and sit out in the square socialising while their children played in the centre of the square!

There was a great atmosphere and the pizza bites, small sandwiches crisps we were served with our drinks were all a delicious appetiser before the meal we had booked for later!

Murals adorn the buildings in the Ostiense area and below, my friends’Sandwich of the day’ at Marigold Cafe and my gelato from Gelateria La Romana in the same area

For our main meal, our friend had booked a highly recommended nearby restaurant, Felice a Testaccio. Here, the most menu item, and the one ordered by us all, was the Roman pasta dish Cacio e Pepe which literally translates as cheese and pepper. Our pepper-sprinkled Tonnarelli pasta was brought out to us in a bowl absolutely covered in parmesan cheese. We then watched as the servers skillfully tossed together the contents of the bowl and a thick cheese sauce was formed. Delicious!

After dinner, we walked back towards Piramide station, stopping for drinks across the road at the Tram Stop bar, my friends particularly enjoying a ‘Hugo Spritz’ – an elderflower flavoured drink – as a change from the usual Aperol Spritz.

Another Aperol Spritz!

After a big night out the day before, we were late up the next morning. Walking back towards the Piramide area (so called because of a huge, first century-built Pyramid-shaped tomb in the area), we met up with our friend at her nearby apartment before going for brunch. She took us to a small cafe/micro-bakery called Marigolds in the nearby Ostiense. There was a half hour wait for a table during which time we wandered through the local streets before returning to be seated.

Pizza at Sorbillo

Marigolds bakes all its bread on the premises but despite this, I found it’s 11 euro charge for a tiny grilled cheese sandwich and 4.50 for a pot of tea to be a bit on the expensive side. My friends did really enjoy their orders of Shakshuka – eggs cooked in a tomato-based sauce – and the sandwich of the day – a huge pork and coleslaw filled sandwich on sourdough.

An almost deserted Spanish Steps in the rain and, below, at St Peters Square in time for a Papal address.

After brunch, we stopped for dessert at Gelateria La Romana – I highly recommend the Biscotto della nonna (like a cookie and cream flavour) and Crema di nocciola al cacao (hazelnut and chocolate) flavours! – then walked from Ostiense to Circo Massimo. We wandered through the grounds of Circo Massimo, the remains of an ancient chariot-racing stadium and continued on to the Jewish Quarter, passing the ancient Roman Theatre, Teatro Marcello which influenced the architecture of the much more-famous and later-built Colosseum. After drinks sat out a a cafe in the Jewish Quarter, we walked back to the Colosseum and caught the metro back to our hotel to freshen up ready for the evening.

That evening, we had decided to dine at Sorbillo, a popular restaurant in the centre of Rome specialising in Neapolitan-style pizzas. I had eaten at Sorbillo’s in Milan in the past and really enjoyed it so was looking forward to eating at the Rome branch. Sorbillo operated a no booking in advance policy so we arrived early at 8pm, just half hour after opening. The restaurant was already busy and we were told it would be a 45 minute wait for a table to be available. Putting our name down, we went for drinks at a bar around the corner and returned to find our table ready.

For starters, we ordered a highly-recommended potato croquette each. When they arrived they were huge and did not disappoint in their taste. Mains was pizza’s all round and although I went for a basic margherita, it was one of the best I’ve ever had! We stayed at Sorbillos late, having drinks at our table after our meal and then walking back towards the Spanish Steps to catch the metro back to our hotel. It was pouring with rain as we left but this did mean that the Spanish Steps were almost completely deserted making for a rare photo opportunity!

Castel Sant’Angelo and, above, touring the Vatican Museums on a previous visit

We had one full day left in Rome and had decided to spend it revisiting, or rather whizzing past, the sights we hadn’t yet seen on this visit. We started in Vatican City where we planned on visiting St Peter’s Basilica. I had taken a tour of the Vatican Museums, which included access to the Sistine Chapel, on a previous visit to Rome, making sure I pre-booked to avoid the huge queues that tend to form there on a daily basis.

View of the River Tiber from Ponte Sant’Angelo

That time, we had arrived back at St Peter’s Basilica just as a mass started meaning I didn’t get to see as much of the church as I would have liked so I hoped to explore a bit more today. However, as we got closer to St Peter’s Square, there was a heavier than usual presence of security and police as well as large crowds of people. We were redirected to a front entrance to the Square where we had to go through a security check to be allowed into the Square itself.

Crossing the River Tiber

Moments after clearing security, we realised that with it being midday on the first Sunday of the month, the Pope was about to make an appearance on the balcony to say a blessing. This was a completely unexpected coincidence and we stayed to watch him address the crowd.

The Pantheon

With the square being so busy, we abandoned plans to stick around after to visit St Peter’s Basilica and instead walked from Vatican City back to Rome past Castel Sant’Angelo and across the Tiber River. On my first visit to the city, I had taken a river cruise along the Tiber which had been included with my hop on/off bus ticket but had found there wasn’t really a lot to see.

Pistachio Tiramisu from Pompi

Today, there seemed to be kayaks and boats for hire along the riverside which would have been fun to take advantage of if we’d had more time! Instead, after crossing Ponte Sant’Angelo, we wandered the back streets of Rome ending up in the beautiful Piazza Navona. Despite being hungry for lunch, I had learned my lesson from a previous experience of sitting out in one of the restaurants in the Piazza only to be met with inferior food and a hefty charge for service and bread so instead, we found a side street with some quieter tucked away restaurants and had lunch there.

Twin churches in Piazza del Popolo
Above, and below, views from the Spanish Steps

Passing the Pantheon along the way, we joined the short queue for the temperature check to enter and had a quick walk around. We had walked into a few churches for a look around over the weekend and it was always worth it no matter how unassuming they looked from the outside!

Next stop was Pompi, a tiramisu store near the Spanish Steps which we had been assured sold the best tiramisu in Rome. We then wandered along Via del Corso for some last minute shopping and down to another pretty square, Piazza del Popolo, flanked by its twin churches, one of which had it’s doors open so we wandered in for a look around.

Realising we’d not yet climbed the Spanish Steps despite passing them more than any other sight over the course of the weekend, we walked back to rectify this and visit the Trinità dei Monti church at the top. On my first visit to Rome, I had walked from here along to Villa Borghese, a huge and extremely pretty park with landscaped gardens, sculptures, museums and a boating lake and I was disappointed that we didn’t have time to walk there today.

The church at the top of the Spanish Steps, and below, walking from the top of the Spanish Steps to Villa Borghese on a previous visit

Instead, we found another back street bar for drinks before catching the metro to Cavour and walking to the Monti area. It was early Sunday evening by now and the cafes and bars in the area were already busy with tourists and locals out for drinks and aperitivo. We had drinks from Antigallery bar, where we were given complimentary tortilla chips and popcorn to munch on as we sat out in Piazza degli Zingari then moved down to Grazie a Dio è venerdi bar where we got a delicious pizza with every 2 drinks!

After seeing an almost constant queue at the neighbouring Fata Morgana gelateria, we decided to sample some for ourselves. The store offered some of the most unusual ice cream flavours I’d seen and while I enjoyed my scoops of chocolate chip gelato and Nutella swirl gelato, it wasn’t quite up there with the ice cream from Gelateria La Romana the day before.

The Colosseum at night

We finished our evening with a walk back to the Colosseum to see it lit up at night before retracing our steps from our first day’s sightseeing to grab photos of the illuminated Vittorio Emanuele II Monument and Trevi Fountain. Then it was time to wave goodbye to Rome’s city centre and ride the metro back to our hotel one last time before catching our flight back to Birmingham early the next day.

Despite the mandatory face coverings and general restrictions with travelling amid a global pandemic, our city break in Rome had felt like a breath of fresh air and a taste of normality in what has been a far from normal year. I certainly had my reservations about going ahead with our trip despite Italy remaining on the UK’s travel corridor list but if anything, my experience has made me more likely to plan similar breaks and, where possible, travel as I would usually.

Have you had any experiences of travelling on holidays or city breaks during the pandemic? Let me know in the comments!

Italy’s Best Kept Secret?

Exploring Puglia, a lesser visited region of Italy

Altamura’s Corso leading to the town gates

Italy is, without a doubt, my favourite European country to visit. I’ll never forget my first visit, taking a city break to Rome, my breath taken away each time I turned a corner only to be met by more beautiful buildings or ancient ruins.

Since then, I’ve been to many of the main cities and tourist destinations there – Milan, Lake Garda, Florence, Venice, Bologna, Naples and the Amalfi Coast…but when my friend moved to the country to take up a teaching position in a small town in the South, it gave me the opportunity to explore a lesser known part of this beautiful country.

My friend had moved to the town of Altamura which lies in the region of Puglia, known in English as Apulia, sitting in the ‘heel’ of Italy’s ‘boot’. To get there, I flew to Bari, the principle city of the area. Bari is mainly known for its port. It is possible to catch the ferry from here to a variety of other European countries including Greece and Croatia as well as there being a number of cruises departing from here. As the one of only 2 cities in the region with an, albeit small, international airport, it is also seen as the gateway to the stunning coastline of this part of Italy.

While I would spend time exploring the city of Bari during my visit to the region, today, after arriving early and with the rest of the day to spare, my friend was taking me to her favourite nearby seaside town, Polignana a Mare. For a small fee, I dropped my suitcase at Bari station’s left luggage and we hopped on a local train for the 50 minute ride down the coast.

Polignano a Mare

Beautiful sea views at Polignano a Mare
Cala Porto beach flanked by cliffs

Polignano a Mare is a charming seaside town perched on a cliff overlooking the Adriatic Sea. We walked through the winding, narrow streets, visiting some of the small boutique gift shops along the way to the clifftop viewpoint offering beautiful views across the bright, blue sea. Looking back towards the town, we could see the small, white pebble beach of Cala Porto below.

Looking back at Cala Porto beach form the clifftop and below, enjoying an afternoon at Polignano a Mare

After drinks at one of the many cafe bars in the town, we took a stroll down to the beach enjoying the late afternoon sunshine before walking back to the station and returning to Bari.

Altamura

The cathedral in Altmura

From Bari, it was another 90 minute train journey on the local train to Altamura where my friend had a small apartment on the outskirts of the town. The following day, she took me on a tour of the area starting with a walk through the city gates onto the ‘Corso’ – the main street running through the medieval town. Along here, lies the beautiful Altamura Cathedral dating back to the 13th century.

After looking around the cathedral, we walked through the maze of back streets leading off the Corso to a small bakery at the Santa Chiara Monastery where we bought some traditional Altamura cakes. Tette delle monache – which literally translates as “nun’s breasts”! – are soft, filled cakes.

Pastries and cakes at the bakery

We tried one filled with nutella and one filled with pistacchio and went to sit in the park o the edge of the city to eat them before having a further wander around the town.

Meeting the baker!

Altamua is famous for its bread, so much so that it is often referred to as the ‘City of Bread’, so I couldn’t spend the day there without trying some. The bread, ‘Pane di Altamura DOP’ is baked in a ‘forno antico’ or antique oven, the oldest of which, Forno Antico Santa Chiara, dates back to 1423.

Visiting the Archaeological Museum

We looked inside the bakery to meet the baker and watch the bread being placed into the oven to bake before taking a seat out in the courtyard and ordering a selection of bread and cheese dishes for lunch.

That afternoon, we took a stroll to the National Archaeological Museum of Altamura. This small museum had a range of exhibits showing its collection of artefacts from the area dating back thousands of years. There was also an interesting exhibition on the ‘Man of Altamura’, the fossil of a neanderthal man found in a nearby cave.

The Cathedral at night and above, locals stroll up and down the Corso in the busy evenings

That evening, we returned to Altamura’s Corso which was now bustling with life as the locals visited the many shops, cafes and bars lining the street or paraded up and down the street deep in conversation with their family and friends. We called into a local restaurant for a delicious pizza.

Pizza!
Nutella filled croissants for breakfast

We began the next day with a ‘cornetti’ breakfast at Stile Libero, a cafe on the outskirts of town – possibly the best nutella filled pastry I had ever tasted! Then we walked the short distance to Altamura station to catch the train out to the city of Matera.

Matera

Spectacular view – my first glimpse of Matera’s sassi
A busy main square in Matera, and below, exploring the city

Matera is actually just across the border of Puglia, in the region of Basilicata. After a 40 minute train journey from Altamura, we arrived in the ‘new’ part of town and took the short walk down to the historic centre. The main square at the entrance to the centre was flanked by a variety of restaurants, cafes and tourist information centres all of which we initially bypassed to walk to the nearby viewpoint over Matera’s ‘Sassi’.

The Sassi di Matera, is made up of two districts of the city built into the caves. Once known for its poverty and slums, the area has been regenerated over the last few decades with Unesco declaring it a World Heritage site in 1993.

Exploring Matera

The first view of the ‘Sassi’ is absolutely breath-taking. Before going to explore further, we signed up for a tour of Matera’s Underground. We booked the tour at one of the tourist information booths in the square and had only a short wait until the next English-speaking tour. The tour was quite short and once down in Matera’s underground, there wasn’t a lot to see but it was interesting to hear about how the city overcame difficulties in supplying water to its residents and seeing parts of the system used.

Taking a walking tour of Matera

After dinner at a cafe bar in the main centre, I took a walking tour of the Sassi. This was a great way to see the area and learn about its past. As part of the tour we visited a ‘casa grotta’ reconstruction to see a cave dwelling which had been set up as it would have been when it was once lived in by large families 60 years or more ago and the tour also allowed us entry into some parts of the Sassi only accessible on a tour including an old church built into the caves.

Another beautiful view over Matera

Matera is a great place to just wander around and it is easy to lose yourself in the winding maze of streets built into the caves. There a are a variety of museums, galleries and churches to explore in the city and we visited a photography exhibition that we just happened to stumble upon as we walked through the city as well as taking a look inside the Cathedral of Saint Mary della Bruna and Saint Eustace.

Bari

A table with a view and, below, more views along the waterfront

We took another trip out of Altamura the next day, this time, back to the region’s capital, Bari. Bari is a charming Italian port on the Adriatic Sea and we began our visit with a stroll along the waterfront and along the old city walls stopping for drinks overlooking the sea.

Strolling by the city walls

The highlight of our visit to Bari was a walk around its Old Bari or Bari Vecchia with its maze of narrow streets winding past medieval buildings and opening out into busy squares and courtyards.

Bars and restaurant in the old town

We visited the Basilica di San Nicola then made our way back to the main square, Piazza Mercantile where we had dinner at one of its many restaurants and grabbed an gelato for dessert.

Gelato in Bari’s old town

Bari offers a great mix of the old and the modern and we made our way back to the main station along Via Sparano, the main shopping street in the newer part of the city where we found all the usual high street stores including Sephora, H&M, Zara and Pandora.

Gravina di Puglia

My final trip out from the town of Altamura was a solo trip to Gravina di Puglia. My friend was busy working and recommended I take the 10 minute train ride out to this town which, similarly to Matera, is built into a series of caves.

An evening trip to Gravina di Puglia for dinner at Sottofondo

We’d already been one evening for dinner at one of its restaurants, Sottofondo, which randomly specialised in oven baked potatoes with a variety of fillings. We had views of the caves from the restaurant terrace and it looked like an interesting town to explore further.

Filled jacket potato dinner

Gravina Cathedral

Unfortunately, and unknown to me, Gravina seemed to close down on a Monday and within minutes of my arrival just before midday, everything closed its doors – churches, shops, restaurants, cafes and museums, all closed!

Exploring Gravina and, below, a cave church of Gravina

Despite this shutdown, I was still able to happily spend a few hours just wandering around, seeing the Cathedral from the outside, wandering around the narrow maze of streets and enjoying beautiful views of the cliffs and caves surrounding the area.

On the viaduct across Gravina creek and, below, exploring across the creek

On my way back to the station, I took a detour across the viaduct at the entrance to the town which spans Gravina creek and leads to the ancient remains of the Madonna della Stella church. From here there were also amazing views of the town of Gravina built into the cliffs opposite.

It was a shame I had inadvertently visited this historic town at a time when many of its attractions were closed but it had still been worth a visit.

While the region of Puglia and its ancient towns and cities don’t get the publicity that major cities like Rome and Milan or regions such as Tuscany and Amalfi get, I’d definitely recommend visiting the region and exploring its less touristy and very much authentically Italian towns.

Revisiting a childhood holiday in Majorca

Returning to Majorca 25 years on

Back in the 80s, package holidays were a relatively new thing. When I was a child of 8, my parents managed to scrape together enough money along with making use of the ‘free child places’ schemes to take us on a 2 week holiday to Majorca, the largest of the Balearic Islands off the coast of mainland Spain. We went in early October – term time, which wouldn’t be allowed now but which I never feel affected our schooling back then and we stayed at the Cala Marcal hotel in the resort of the same name. We enjoyed our holiday there so much, we went back for 2 more holidays over the next few years – it would have been 4 except the one year, we had to move resorts at the last minute following a travel agent error.

At Cala Marcal hotel with my mother and
my brother in the late 1980s.

My recollections of the holidays are a little hazy but the important bits are there. I remember being at the airport, carrying my teddy bear through security and watching it go through the x-ray machine but I don;t remember the flights themselves at all. I remember the uniquely shaped hotel, looming tall overlooking the beautiful sandy bay. I remember building sandcastles on the beach with my younger brother and playing in the sea, often jumping through like, what seemed at the time, huge waves. I remember occasionally leaving the beach, and our parents, to go to the hotel’s kids club and I remember dancing the night (or probably early evening) away at the children’s disco each night.

Family photo in the hotel Cala Marcal in the 1980s

As well as the beach, I remembered the area around the hotel quite well as well – the apartments and shop – where we’d buy those long packets of sweets from – to the one side, a road to the other side, eventually leading to a village with a harbour, a place called Porto Colom, which we’d walk to some evenings and sit out at a bar before returning to our hotel.

We rarely left the immediate area back then. I think we hired bikes once with child seats on the back and rode around Porto Colom one day and once took a bus to Cala d’Or to see if it would be somewhere we might stay at on a future trip (it wasn’t).

Returning to Cala Marcal beach

These holidays stopped once I reached secondary school age. We could only ever afford to go in term time and ow my schooling became more important than a holiday abroad. After this, annual holidays became 2 or 3 week camping holiday at a UK seaside resort like Weymouth or Tenby. Then, when we were older, we returned to taking a couple of package holidays but going later in the year for Christmas, chose warmer locations of and the Canaries.

The Cala Marcal Hotel still looking out over Cala Marcal beach
Walking along the headland – looking back towards the beach
and Cala Marcal hotel.

As much as we enjoyed these, when looking back at old holidays and reminiscing, we always spoke most fondly of Cala Marcal. There was always something special about it. It wasn’t a well known Majorcan resort. No one else we knew had even heard of it, never mind been there. It was a tucked away, peaceful, family resort. A place to go to get away from it all. We often talked about going back but nothing ever came of it.

A stroll along the headland.

Until recently. We’d had a bit of a run of bad news and a summer holiday in Wales where it had rained and rained and rained. My parents 40 year anniversary was coming up and we’d talked a few times about how nice it would be to get away. I was supply teaching at this point and not tied down to taking holidays in term time so I started looking online. One day, I got an alert through from holiday bargain specialists Holiday Pirates for an all inclusive, late September one-week stay in Majorca for under £240 a person and when I clicked through to read it, it was for the resort of Cala Marcal. It was like fate pulling us back.

On the road to Porto Colom – steps from the road
down to Cala Marcal beach

Whereas we had always stayed at the Cala Marcal hotel, this time we’d be staying at the Cecile apartments around the corner. As our holiday neared, we wondered how much, if at all, the resort would have changed from how we remembered it.

We arrived late evening to torrential rain, so much rain that we were forced to move apartment rooms the next day after ours started to let in. With it being drizzly and cloudy the first morning, we took a walk to the neighbouring village of Porto Colom. As we left the apartments, we immediately remembered our way around the small resort of Cala Marcal. Very little seemed to have changed. The cove of sand sweeping back to the quiet road, behind which, the Cala Marcal hotel stood, now painted a beige colour instead of the white it once was but still just as distinctive. The beach was now filled with more regimented loungers and parasols than it used to be and there were a few more shops and bars lining either side of the bay than we remembered but not enough to spoil it.

Down by the harbour in Porto Colom
Walking through Porto Colom

We easily found our way to Porto Colom, following the road up and over the hill, the smell of pine cones along the way bringing back memories of many childhood walks in this direction. My memory of the village itself was hazy at best – a long road which led down to a harbour, lined with souvenir stores and bars. The main road through the village remained but there was now an open square leading off it with bars and cafes, there seemed more hotels in the area than we remembered, the harbour seemed bigger and there were more restaurants and less shops. It still kept its quiet authenticity of a Spanish fishing village though, largely unspoilt by the intervening 20 or so years.

Views across the bay at Cala Marcal from the road to Porto Colom.

With the sun attempting to make an appearance, we decided to walk back to our apartments in time for the included buffet lunch after which we took a stroll down to the beach. The weather cleared long enough for us to take a dip in the sea, the waves almost as huge as I remembered them from my childhood after the recent stormy weather. Unfortunately, the rain made a comeback after a couple of hours and we had to make a run for it back along the short distance to our new apartment room.

Thankfully, the rest of the week brought glorious sunshine and higher than average temperatures allowing us to have the relaxing holiday in the sun which we had hopped for. We spent our days lounging on the beach and swimming in the sea and our evenings taking a stroll into Porto Colom where we’d sit out in the square, having a drink at a cafe bar.

Cala Marcal bay at night

One evening, we managed to take a look at our old Cala Marcal hotel and found that hadn’t changed much either as we easily found our way around to its cafe bar and main family entertainment area then out into its grounds. Maybe one day in the future we can return to the area and stay there once again but for now, we were pleased with our choice of apartments.

It’s always a gamble going back to somewhere you have fond memories of as a child. Often, the place has changed to the point of being recognisable, or sometimes, it turns out it just wasn’t as great as you remember after all. Luckily, neither of these was the case for Cala Marcal. The resort was just as special as I remembered from my childhood visits and I look forward to returning again some day.

A midweek budget break in Copenhagen

Wanting an October half term break without paying over the odds, we used Skyscanner to price flights to ‘Everywhere’ deciding to pick wherever we hadn’t been that was cheapest. Copenhagen won with flights from Luton coming up at under £50 return. We managed to find a well-reviewed budget central hotel for under £100 each making it a pretty cheap break as long as we could keep the costs down while there in what is a notoriously expensive Scandinavian country!

After a bit of research on things to do, we decided to buy a £57 Copenhagen tourist card giving us entry to a variety of attractions and use of public transport throughout the city, including to and from the airport, all for one price. Our hotel included breakfast and, with it being Continental, we were able to make up sandwiches for lunch to take out with us to save on buying anything. It also offered free tea and coffee in the lobby throughout the day so, with it being in a central location, we were able to return to sit down for a while and have this instead of popping into a cafe and buying a hot drink.

Arriving into Copenhagen airport early evening, we easily managed to navigate the public transport system into the city centre and walk the short distance to our hotel. After checking in, we took a walk to Nyhaven then wandered in the immediate vicinity eventually stumbling across a ‘hole in the wall’ type cafe selling reasonably priced take out pizza which sorted that night’s dinner!

We were up early for breakfast the next morning then walked back to Nyhaven where we used our tourist card for a boat ride on the Copenhagen canals. It was a guided tour with an English commentary and helped us to get our bearings a bit, see where some of the attractions we wanted to visit were and learn a bit about the city.

After our canal tour, we walked to the first of many palaces to explore in the city, Christiansborg Palace.

It was free to go up the Palace Tower to enjoy beautiful views across the city and our tourist card gave us access to look around various parts of the palace buildings including the Royal Reception Rooms, the stables and the ruins underneath the palace.

We had lunch sat out in the palace courtyard before moving off to our next destination, the Museum of Denmark to learn some of the history of the country and see artefacts from it’s past. Our Copenhagen Card also got us a free pack of postcards souvenir from the museum!

From the museum, we caught the metro across to the Hans Christian Anderson Fairytale House. The attraction was really aimed more at kids with its exhibit of tableaux depicting the various fairytales written by the famous Danish author and we’d probably have thought it not worth the money had it not been included on our tourist card but as it was, it was worth a quick saunter around.

Returning to the main centre of the city and after quickly popping back to our hotel for a cup of tea, it was off to another palace next, Rosenburg Castle. We walked around the rooms of the castle before descending to the basement to see the Crown Jewels.

It had been a busy day of sightseeing but we still had time to fit in one more attraction on our Copenhagen card so we walked to the Rundetaarn, or the Roundhouse, so called because of it rotunda shape. This is a 17th Century tower which you can walk to the top of up a winding spiral path to an observation deck.

The sun was just starting to set as we reached the top making for some pretty views over the city.

With it now being evening and most of the attractions closing for the day, we instead walked to Strøget, the city’s main shopping street which was still buzzing with shoppers and tourists.

Our first stop on the busy pedestrianised street was the Lego Store, the flagship store for the famous Danish construction toy full of lego reconstructions of famous Danish icons including Copenhagen’s Nyhavn area!

We shopped in a few souvenir stores along the street then went for dinner at nearby buffet restaurant, Dalle Valle. We had seen the restaurant advertised with a money off coupon in a tourist leaflet we had picked up at our hotel and its all-you-can-eat option, along with a variety of foods to suit our plain tastes, seemed a good idea especially being on a budget. Then, exhausted after a jam-packed day, it was back to the hotel.

We began the next day back at Nyhanv where we used our tourist card to visit the Amber Museum before spending a bit more time looking around the area and finding the houses there that were once lived in by Hans Christian Anderson.

Continuing the Hans Christian Anderson theme, from Nyhavn we took the 20 minute or so pretty walk along the waterside out to see the iconic The Little Mermaid sculpture.

While there, we stumbled across Kastellet, or The Citadel, a fortress which is now mainly a park and historic site. We had a stoll around before walking back towards the city and the third palace of our trip, Amalienborg Palace, current home of the Danish Royal family.

Our Copenhagen card included entry to the Amalienborg Museum – access to some of the rooms in the palace and after our visit, we exited the palace just in time to watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony in the palace courtyard.

Getting through the list of attractions included on our card a lot quicker than we had planned to, we decided we had time to fit in one more attraction this morning before heading to Tivoli Gardens this afternoon as planned. So after looking at the map, we decided to head across to the district of Christianshavn to visit the Church of Our Saviour where you can climb the stairs to the top of its steeple.

This was an interesting experience as most of the stairs are on the outside of the steeple and they narrow as they near the very top making it tricky to navigate past those coming back down as you go up. Stopping to let people past does at least give you time to catch your breath though!

That was our third observation deck of sorts since arriving in Copenhagen but all were worth a visit as their different situations in the city each gave a unique vantage point.

After sitting in the church grounds to eat our lunch (once again made up from our hotel buffet breakfast!), we caught the train over to Tivoli Gardens.

Our Copenhagen Card included entry into Tivoli Gardens but any rides were extra. Seeing as ride tickets were a lot more expensive than we had expected we decided to give them a miss and just walk around the grounds. As it was autumn, the park had been decorated heavily for Hallowe’en with hundreds of pumpkins making it a fun place to just wander around and explore.

Not going on any rides meant our visit didn’t take up as much time as we had planned for so we checked the map that had come with our card to see what included attractions were nearby and decided to walk to the nearby Planetarium where we had entry to exhibits and to watch a film in the dome-shaped theatre. We were handed some headphones as we got our tickets for the film so we could listen to the narration in English. It was an unexpected but interesting way to spend an hour!

After our Planetarium visit, we walked back to a diner we had seen near to Tivoli Gardens and grabbed pulled pork sandwiched and fries for dinner before returning to Nyhavn where we visited a waffle shop for desert before returning to our hotel.

The following day we would be flying back home from not until the evening still giving us plenty of time in the city.

Having exhausted all the city centre activities offered on our Copenhagen Card, we decided to venture out a bit and visit the Carlsberg Brewery. The card included entrance to a tour of the old brewery where we learnt about the history of the drink and visited the World’s largest collection of unopened beer bottles!. The tour ended in a bar where we could have a free drink of Carslberg but as neither of us drink, we swapped our voucher for a delicious Diet Coke instead!

Next up, and purely to fill the time, we headed to Copenhagen Zoo, entrance to which was also included on our Copenhagen Card. The zoo was quite small and didn’t take us long to walk around. We caught the train back to the city centre after, walking back to our hotel for a hot drink while we decided how to spend the last few hours in the city.

Spotting something called the Experimentarium in our Copenhagen Card booklet, we decided to give that a go. We had see it across the river from our boat tour on the first day in the city but it hadn’t been on our list of places to visit in the city. Seeing as the only other places left on our card were those out in neighbouring towns and cities and therefore too far away to reach at this point, we caught the metro across the river.

This turned out to be one of the best decisions we made all trip.The Experiemetarium was an interactive science museum, perfect for big kids like us. We took part in a range of activities including running in a giant hamster ball, attempting to get across a room without our feet touching the floor, obstacle courses, and pedalling on giant bicycles. A super fun way to spend an hour!

Exhausted from the various activities, we caught the train back to the main shopping street, Strøget, for some last minute shopping and returned to the Dalle Valle buffet restaurant for dinner. We followed that with a dessert of chocolate covered Churros from a gelato store we’d been eyeing up all week before returning to our hotel to collect our luggage and make our way back to the airport.

It had been a fun and busy few days in the city and we really felt like we’d seen a lot of what Copenhagen hass to offer while sticking to a tight budget!

A trip to Malta

Waiting to board our flight to Malta

Wanting a break in May half term, our list of what we were looking for in a break included somewhere warm, not too far away, not too expensive and with plenty to do/see. Using various holiday search engines, the cheapest option on all of them which ticked all those boxes, seemed to be Malta. It was somewhere I’d never been before and was interested in seeing so we booked a 5 day break staying room only in a hotel in the resort of Bugibba.

Our delayed Ryanair flight from East Midlands airport ended up landing in Malta early evening and having already lost some of the time we had planned on spending getting our bearings in Bugibba that afternoon, we opted to take a taxi directly to the door of our hotel rather than wasting time tracking down and waiting for the public transport bus. As it was already getting dark, we were glad we made that decision as we’re not sure we’d have found our hotel from the where the bus would have dropped us otherwise!

Bugibba sea front
Views from the tour bus

Once we’d checked in to what turned out to be a larger than we’d expected apartment-style room with 2 bedrooms, living room area and kitchenette, we ventured out and found our way to the main town and seafront, just a short walk away. Having already eaten a large meal at the airport before departing earlier, we bypassed all the bars and restaurants on the main road and instead found a small cafe selling pastries, ice creams, sandwiches and toasties and well-attended by locals and grabbed a snack each before walking back via a stop for a drink at a local bar, both pleased to find that we could sit outside without needing anything more than a light cardigan on!

Passing through the resort of St Julians

The next morning, to save time, we paid for the hotel’s breakfast buffet. Whilst not the most amazing buffet for the price, there was enough to fill us up for bit but we both decided we wouldn’t eat there again that trip.

After a quick trip to a nearby convenience store to stock up on a few essentials to make our own lunch and breakfast, we walked down to the seafront and bought 2-day tickets for the island’s hop on/off bus. We planned on using the bus to get to the capital city of Valletta while seeing a bit of the island and learning about it along the way.

View of Valletta from Sliema

We hopped off at the town of Sliema. Our bus tickets had come with an included boat trip so we planned on catching the boat about to depart and then continuing to Valletta after. Unfortunately, there were not enough passengers for the boat to run and there was an hour until the next departure so as there was quite a wait until the next bus anyway, we decided to spend some time exploring Sliema walking into the town centre then along the seafront enjoying the views of Valletta across the bay.

The next boat did depart on time and we enjoyed cruising the bay and listening to the guided commentary. The boat trip was longer than we had expected though meaning we missed the last bus that would be looping around back to Bugibba. Luckily we had our phones to look up the public transport system and work out which bus to catch back and we managed to get back quite easily!

The sun was starting to set by the time we got back so we went for cocktails at a bar overlooking the sea then headed back to our hotel to freshen up before heading out to dinner – pizza at a local restaurant.

The city gate of Mdina

The next day, we jumped back on the hop on/off bus, opting not to re-listen to the commentary for the first part and just enjoying the views as far as Sliema. This time we stayed on the bus until we reached Valletta then spent the morning exploring the city and its churches following a self-guided walking tour itinerary we had downloaded in advance. While there, we also hopped on to the land train we had seen going around for a bit of inexpensive fun!

In the afternoon, we boarded the bus again, this time heading for the walled city of Mdina. Here, as well as exploring the city and enjoying beautiful views from the city walls, we visited the popular Fontanella Tea Gardens where we we indulged in a slice of one of the most delicious chocolate cakes I have ever tasted!

From Mdina, we caught the last hop on/off bus back to Bugibba, completing a full loop of the island and getting a good idea of what it has to offer for any future visits.

That evening, we walked down to Bugibba Square for dinner. Many of the bars and restaurants around here offered set touristy menus and we found one with 3-courses for a reasonable price, trying the traditional beef dish of Bragioli as a main. We then took a stroll along the sea front to the harbour and back.

A stroll along Bugibba front
On the boat to Comino

For our final full day of the trip, we had booked a trip out to see the other Maltese Islands of Comino and Gozo. It was a gloriously hot and sunny day for a boat trip and we sat out on the deck sunbathing as we headed to our first stop of the day.

Exploring the sea caves from a speed boat

The boat company offered an extra trip on a speed boat to see some sea caves from the island of Comino which we opted to do and it was great fun speeding along. After this trip we had some free time at the famous Blue Lagoon of Comino. The boat docked where we could swim in the lagoon, entering the crystal clear water either down the steps on the side of the boat or via an attached water slide! Or we could disembark to walk around the the ‘beach’ – a tiny patch of sand crowded with tourists! We had time to go for a walk and bathe in the lagoon by the beach before returning to the boat and swimming in the less crowded area of the lagoon next to the boat.

In Victoria on the island of Gozo

Some passengers had opted to just see Comino and spend the day at the Blue Lagoon but as we had opted for the Comino and Gozo trip, it was soon time to wave goodbye to the Blue Lagoon and head to our next destination. Once we had docked at Gozo, we were met by mini buses and 4x4s which we were loaded onto and taken to the main town on Victoria. Here we were given directions to the city’s Citadel before being given free time in the city to explore. We had plenty of time to both walk to the Citadel and explore as well as walk around the city, shop for souvenirs and grab a snack or drink before we walked back to meet our bus to be taken to another part of the island.

Ta’Pinu Basilica

Our second stop on the island was at a church, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta’Pinu, which we were given time to look around and then we continued to a small bay with inland sea caves. We were given the option to take a boat ride out to see these caves which – as you can’t have too many boat trips in a day – we decided to do.

Views across the islands of Gozo, Comino and Malta

We had one final stop on the islands of Gozo – at a viewpoint from where you can see all 3 Maltese Islands – Gozo, Comino and Malta in the distance. Then it was back on board our original boat to pick up the passengers we had left at Comino earlier and return to Malta. It had been an amazing day and definitely the highlight of our trip to Malta!

We had one more morning left on the island before returning to the airport that afternoon so since we didn’t have time to go far, we spent it exploring more of Bugibba itself walking along the seafront to St Paul and back and having brunch in Bugibba Square.

A final morning in Bugibba

Then, having worked out where the airport buses went from, we caught the bus back to the airport only to find out our Ryanair flight had been delayed 3 hours. If only we’d have been told in advance, we could have spent more time exploring this beautiful place. We’ll just have to return one day instead!

A Long Weekend in Prague

Usually when I have a city break – or any kind of trip – planned, I’m well prepared for it by the time it comes around. I research places to go, things to do. I pre-book attraction tickets to expedite entry or get an online discount, I find out how to get to the places I want to visit and even come up with a rough plan of how to spend each day. But for this trip to Prague, I felt wholly unprepared. I’d just been so busy over the past few weeks, I’d not had the time to look things up. In fact, I only realised a few days before departing that I needed Czech Krona and not Euros to spend – luckily with just enough time to order some in to my local currency exchange branch. My friend had mentioned possibly doing a bike tour but with time ticking away, we’d not got around to looking any up, ever mind booking it and as the morning of departure approached, I’d only just about managed to look up the weather forecast – it was going to be hot but showery – and how to get to our hotel from the airport.

Our flight out of Heathrow was early, which must have felt like a good idea at the time of booking but felt less so when the 4am alarm went off at our airport hotel. We’d landed at Prague airport by 10.15am and the small bit of research I had done told me to save a bit of money by avoiding the Airport Express to the main station and instead catching the local 119 bus to the start of the metro Line A then catching the metro into the city – all for the equivalent of just over £1! It was an easy way to get into the city – we got off the metro at Muzeum Station, the stop for the National Museum and Wenceslas Square and it was a short walk to the lovely Hotel Sunrise in the Prague 2 district from here.

Charles Square

While it was too early to check in to our room, we were able to leave our luggage at reception and were told they could have our room ready for us within the next hour. Not knowing where we really were, we wandered downhill and found ourselves in Charles Square where we grabbed some snacks from a convenience store and sat rifling through some tourist leaflets which we’d picked up in the hotel lobby before walking back and checking in.

Dancing House

After settling into our room, we ventured out into the city again. We walked downhill towards the Vltava River where we couldn’t help but notice a rather odd shaped building on the street corner which didn’t exactly fit in with the other building in the area. This was ‘Dancing House’ which we were later to learn had been built on the site of an area bombed and destroyed during the Second World War. The building is sometimes referred to as ‘Fred and Ginger’ as it is supposed to resemble two dancers.

Old Town Square

From here, we followed the river towards the Old Town, stopping at the bridges along the way to take photos of the famous Charles Bridge in the distance and Prague Castle on the hill across the river. As soon as we reached Charles bridge itself and the street leading to the Old Town, we were astonished by just how busy it was and found ourselves battling through the crowds filling the narrow streets.

Tired from the early morning and not feeling up to fighting our way through, we went to eat at the first place we came across – we found menu prices to be surprisingly reasonable despite being in the touristy centre – then briefly visited the Old Town Square. Old Town Square is home to the Old Town Hall and Astronomical Clock and crowds gather each hour to watch the clock chime. We had just missed its last display so instead just wandered through the Square admiring the architecture and shrugging our shoulders at the bizarre displays of street performers dressed as pandas and polar bears dancing about.

A huge Trdelnik filled with ice cream

Leaving the Old Town the same way we entered, we stopped to buy a Trdelnik – a kind of doughnut spiral, spread with your choice of filling. These are not exactly traditional, more something dreamed up to get tourists shelling out their money, but they looked so delicious we couldn’t resist! We chose to have ours spread with salted caramel and then filled with ice cream. It was extremely messy to eat, especially as the heat was making the ice cream melt quicker than we could eat it but still really yummy! We then fought our way across the Charles Bridge and walked back along the other side of the river through Kampa Island before crossing back by Dancing House and walking back to our hotel.

First view of St Vitus Cathedral in the castle grounds
Guards at the castle entrance

The next morning, over breakfast, we decided that due to our lack of research, we would buy a hop on/off bus ticket to take us around the city then we could explore anything that looked interesting as and when we came to it. We opted for the City Sightseeing company’s 48 hour ticket and caught the red line bus at a stop near to our hotel. The bus took us across the river and up the hill to Prague Castle where we decided to hop off. It is free to explore the grounds of the castle including it’s courtyards and gardens or a ticket could be purchased to visit the various exhibitions inside. We opted to just look from the outside and found an online self-guided walking tour of the grounds to follow to learn a bit of the castle’s history and find out what we were looking at as we went.

The castle is more of a series of palaces and buildings than a castle in the traditional sense. Being a Saturday morning, it was extremely busy and although we seemed to just beat the crowds to get through the security queue, once inside we found ourselves once again battling our way through all the people as we tried to make our way from courtyard to courtyard.

The buildings were impressive, especially that of the Cathedral in the centre of the grounds which unfortunately had yet to open it’s doors to visitors at the time of our visit.

At midday, we watched the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the entrance gates before wandering through the gardens which offered views of the city below.

Strahov Stadium and ventilation tower

We hopped back onto the bus planning on staying on until we had reached the stop nearest to the Old Town (traffic is not allowed in this area so the bus has to stop just outside of it) only to be told that the bus would be stopping for a 30 minute lunch stop at the Strahov Stadium stop. The rather unattractive concrete stadium sits at the highest point of the city but other than the view of the city, there was nothing to see at the stop making it a rather bizarre choice for a lunch stop. Our bus guide pointed us in the direction of a canteen-style restaurant a short walk from the bus stop so we grabbed drinks and snacks from here then walked back to catch the bus again.

View from outside Strahov Stadium

If we had realised how little there was at this stop, we’d have got off at the Monastery at the previous stop instead but we just assumed that since the Stadium had been chosen as the 30-minute stop, that there must have been something worth seeing or doing there. There wasn’t!

Inside Old Town Hall Tower

We completed the loop on the red line bus and walked into the Old Town. It was just as busy as it had been the previous evening. We wanted to go up to the observation deck at the top of the Astronomical Clock but had read it often had long queues. Seeing the crowds, we expected the worst but were in fact surprised to find no queue at all. We bought our tickets and caught the lift up to the top. The city looked really pretty from above, looking down on a sea of red roofs below us, and it was definitely worth the small entrance fee to climb the clock tower.

We made it back down just in time to see the Astronomical Clock chime on the hour. The display didn’t last very long and we wondered what all the fuss was about – some people had been waiting in the square for ages to get a good view but I was glad we had just turned up last minute as it would not have been worth the long wait!

After leaving the Old Town, we found a small Pizzeria down one of the side streets to eat at then walked back to our hotel to get ready for a concert we’d be attending that night at the city’s O2 Arena. The public transport in Prague was easy to navigate and there were a few options for getting to the arena. We took the number 16 tram which dropped us just a short walk away and then caught the last tram back after the show.

Entrance to Vysehrad Fortress

We had another day left on our hop on/off bus ticket so the next day jumped onto a Purple line bus. Unlike the red line which used the traditional double decker, open top bus, this line must have been a less popular route as instead, a small enclosed mini-bus turned up. We had decided to hop off at Vysehrad Fortress on the outskirts of the city. From where the bus dropped us, there was no sign of the fortress so we asked our guide where it was. She looked confused and waved her arm in the direction of where it was only for the bus driver to get off the bus and tell us that she had pointed us in the entirely wrong direction and tell us to walk another way!

We soon found the fortress following his directions. Like Prague Castle, it was free to wander the grounds and we set about walking the entire caste walls. There were great view of the city and the river from the fortress walls and it was a really pleasant way to spend the morning.

Vltava River views from Vysehrad Fortress

Luckily, we arrived back at the bus stop just as the bus pulled up. The rest of the route took us up past Prague’s TV Tower – yet another place to get city views – Prague has plenty of opportunities for this! – and back towards the city centre.

Wenceslas Square and the National Museum

We hopped off the bus at the Wenceslas Square stop. The square is the heart of the city. It is positioned in front of the huge National Museum and is lined by high street stores, cafes, restaurants and hotels. After a coffee break at one of the many cafes, we walked down towards the Old Town.

The ridiculously crowded Charles Bridge

Experts at navigating our way through the Old Town now, we quickly made our way towards the always busy Charles Bridge and walked along the river in the opposite direction to before to the Prague Boats terminus. The sun had finally decided to come out and we decided to take the opportunity to do a one-hour river cruise. We opted for the small boat cruise which would have a live rather than recorded commentary and allow us to enter “Prague’s Venice” – the smaller waterways off the main river. We definitely felt we made right choice as our guide was full of interesting facts and the scenery was really beautiful.

After the cruise, we walked across Charles Bridge into the Mala Strana area passing some of the waterways we had just cruised down. We passed Lennon Wall, covered in grafitti then walked to Kampa Island and through the park retracing the route we’d taken on our first evening in the city but being a bit more awake to appreciate it this time!

After a quick put stop to freshen up back at our hotel, we walked back into the Old Town and went for dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. Our hop on/off bus tickets came with a voucher for a free dessert there with the purchase of a main meal so being Hard Rock fans, we decided we may as well make use of the offer!

Sunset from Charles Bridge

We left the restaurant just as the sun was starting to go down so decided to walk back down to the river to watch what was left of the sunset. It had unfortunately started to cloud over a bit from the blue skies if the afternoon but the castle still looked pretty under the twilight sky.

With an early evening flight to catch out of the city airport the next day, we had about 3 hours left in the city the next morning. On a longer trip to the city, we’d have still had plenty of things to do to fill the time – we had not made it to Letna Park or the Eiffel Tower-inspired Petrin Tower and it would have been interesting to have done a walking tour of the Old Town or Jewish Quarter or even take a trip out of the city to Český Krumlov or Kutná Hora. But with none of these things fitting our timescale for the day, we instead walked back to the river and hired a pedalo for an hour. It was a beautiful day with blue skies and temperatures reaching 30 degrees but being out on the river there was a bit of a breeze and it was a relaxing way to spend an hour.

We then took a quick walk through the city’s Jewish Quarter, past the many Synagogues in the area before returning to our hotel to retrieve our luggage and make our way back to the airport.

A beautiful day in Old Town Square

Apart from the crowds, I really enjoyed my first visit to the city of Prague and would definitely like to return someday to explore a bit more, see some of the many museums on offer in the city and spend more time learning about he history of the city.

Bavarian Castles day trip from Munich

Visiting Linderhof Palace, the town of Oberammergau and Neuschwanstein Castle

While on a city break in Munich (which you can read about here), we took the organised tour to Linderhof Palace and Neuschwanstein Castle with Grayline Tours. Being big Disney fans, our main reason for doing the trip was to see Neuschwanstein, said to be the inspiration for the original Disney Castle at the California Park. We looked into making the trip ourselves using public transport but it involved trains and buses and not speaking any German, we decided it looked to complicated and an organised day trip would better suite our needs. All of the English speaking tours we saw offered online on sites such as Viator and Expedia seemed to be offered by Grayline so we decided to book their full day trip which also went to Linderhof Palace. The price included travel from Munich to Linderhof and Neuschwanstein with an English speaking tour guide and also a stop at Bavarian town of Oberammergau but excluded lunch and admission fees to the castles which would be collected by the company on the day. After the online booking process, we received a voucher and instructions to meet the tour nearby Munich Hauptbahnhof at least 20 minutes before departure.

On the day of our trip, we left our hotel and walked to the station arriving a good 10 minutes before the recommended time but still found crowds of people queuing for the tour. Unlike many of the small group day tours on minibuses I have done in the past, this was tour was a much bigger affair with multiple double decker coaches lining the street waiting to be boarded. Helpful Grayline representatives pointed us in the direction of the queue for the English speaking tour and despite the long line in front of us, the boarding process was quick and we easily found seats together on the top deck of the coach. As soon as our coach was full, we departed ahead of schedule leaving the remaining people in the queue to board a second coach so it was worth arriving a bit earlier to get a head start on the tour.

Linderhof Palace

As we travelled to our first stop, about 1 hour 45 minutes out of the city, our guide introduced himself and explained the day’s itinerary before coming along the coach and taking the money for the castle tours. Anyone that didn’t want to do the guided tour could opt out of one or both but we paid for entry to both Linderhof and Neuschwanstein.

Most of the journey was on the German autobahn with little to see along the way, made worse by the dreary, drizzly weather but we were assured the scenery would improve once we turned off to our first stop. As we neared Linderhof – via a steep, narrow road up a mountain which did not feel suitable for a large coach to travel up! – our guide explained what would happen once we arrived. We were given strict instructions to follow him to the ticket office, making use of the toilets if we wished to while he picked up our tickets before taking our ticket and walking to the palace entrance. Tours were timed so we were warned not to stop at the shop or cafe for anything as if we missed our times entry, that was it. We were also told that the coach would leave on the dot at 10.45 so if we ended up on the second tour slot, we needed to walk quickly back to the coach after – again no time to stop for souvenirs, drinks or snacks!

Fountain in front on Linderhof Palace

Those who had gone to get the tickets off the guide straight away were put on the first tour at 10am while we decided to use the toilets so got allocated on the second tour 10 minutes later. By this time, the drizzle had become heavy rain so we wished we weren’t in the group that had to hang around as there was nowhere to shelter. Our guide told us to watch the fountain show as we waited – every half hour, the fountain outside the palace started up – while the first group would be out by 10.30 and would be able to watch then. As soon as the fountain stopped, our group was called in for the tour.

Watching the fountain before our tour of the palace

While not particularly impressive from the outside, the palace – which like Neuschwanstein, belonged to King Ludwig II, the last King of Bavaria -is definitely worth seeing from the inside! If I had to use one word to describe it, it would be gold. Gold, gold and more gold. Everywhere. It was completely over the top with each room more gaudy and ornate than the previous one. Highlights were the master bedroom and the famous ‘room of mirrors’. Our tour was given by an English speaking guide and we were given a little history behind the building of the palace and the mysterious circumstances of King Ludwig’s premature death. It was a short but interesting tour – we were inside no longer than 20 minutes and were shown just the one floor – and unfortunately, we were not allowed to take any photos inside.

Traditional Bavarian-style houses in Oberammergau

Once our tour was finished, we took a brisk walk back to the coach making it back 5 minutes before the deadline. Luckily, everyone else on the tour was just as conscientious and we were able to depart on schedule.

Theatre where the Passion Play is staged once a decade.
Painted building in Oberammergau

Our next stop was at Oberammergau, a town famous for its painted houses and for its staging of the Passion Play in a purpose built theatre once every 10 years. We drove around the town on the coach as our guide pointed out some of the fairytale inspired designs painted onto many of the houses, along with the essentials like the souvenir stores, cafes and best place for ice cream, before we were dropped off and given about 50 minutes to explore. Luckily, the rain had stopped for the time being so we wandered along the streets looking around at what the town had to offer.

After a spot of shopping and photo taking, the rain started up again so we ducked into a local cafe and ordered some tea and cake before heading back to the coach.

Walking through Oberammergau
View of Neuschwanstein from the village of Schwangau

Next up was the day’s main attraction – a visit to Neuschwanstein Palace. This was just a short distance from Oberammergau and we soon caught our first glimpse of it on a hill in the distance. As we made our way there, our guide explained how the afternoon would run. The time slots for our groups wouldn’t be until at least 3pm meaning we had a few hours in Schwangau, the village in the valley below the palace. During this time, we could get some lunch (not included in the trip price) and had to make our own way to the palace entrance. There were a few options for this – we could walk up the hill to it, take a trip in a horse and cart or, the option recommended by our guide, catch the bus there. Whichever we chose, we were warned we must be there for the time on our ticket as if we missed our slot, there were no transfers to a later time.

Horse and cart rides running to Neuschwanstein from Schwangau and Hohenscwangau Castle in the distance

Once tickets had been handed out – ours with a time slot of 3.05pm – we were left to our own devices until we had to be back on the coach. We’d brought our own lunch with us but struggled to find anywhere to sit and eat it especially as it was raining heavily. We ended up sheltering under a shop awning and eating as we stood there. We spent some time in the souvenir shops, again, mainly to keep out of the rain and also took some photos of Hohenschwangau Palace, another of King Ludwig II’s residences, on the hill opposite Neuschwanstein.

The very busy Marienbrucke

With the queues for the horse and cart being too long and a 40 minute uphill walk in the rain not sounding at all appealing, we decided to catch the bus up the hill to Neuschwanstein. After a steep climb, it dropped us just a short walk from the palace and two nearby viewpoints. Luckily, the rain had briefly stopped so we walked to Marienbrucke, a pedestrian bridge over a gorge which offers amazing views of the palace. There was a huge number of tourists on the bridge, although a handy digital counter just before you reach the bridge told us there was still room for plenty more and we soon found that most people were crowded on the near side.

Once we got past these, there was plenty of room – and better palace views – on the far side of the bridge! While the view of the palace was impressive, it is worth mentioning that it is not the familiar view of the palace used in all the promotional pictures but instead the view of the back of the palace.

The view of Neuschwanstein from Marienbrucke

After taking plenty of photos, we left the bridge and continued our walk to the palace, passing another viewing platform along the way – this one providing sweeping views across to Hohenscwangau Palace and the valley below. From here, it was a steep uphill walk to the palace entrance. We explored what we could of the grounds but the rain started to fall heavily again so we ended up sat in the visitors centre until our time slot came around.

Looking back down at Schwangau and across at Hohenschwangau Castle from the scenic viewpoint

Once inside the palace, we were provided with an audio guide handset each but also told to follow a live guide around the palace. Unlike the informative guide at Linderhof Palace earlier, the only purpose of this guide seemed to be to tell us when to put the audio guides to our ear and unfortunately, our group was so large that it was often hard to see or hear when we were told to do so. The palace interior was not as impressive as Linderhof, being a lot darker and less gaudy and adding to our disappointment, a lot of it was covered up or surrounded by scaffolding as it was under renovation. Like at Linderhof Palace, we were not allowed to take any photos inside but we both agreed the palace was a lot more impressive from the outside than it was in.

Views of the castle from within the grounds

After leaving the palace, we had about 20 minutes to get back to our coach. We had been warned by our guide that we would need to walk back as queues for the buses etc made these more time consuming options and we’d be late. The walk back was at least downhill but still not much fun in the pouring rain. We did easily make it back on time along with everyone else on the trip and left for Munich on schedule.

Looking up at the castle from within the courtyard

Despite hitting the rush hour traffic, we made it back to Munich centre on time and said goodbye to our fellow passengers. Tired from travelling and still damp from the rain, we found somewhere for dinner then walked back to our hotel ready for a quiet in!

Munich City Break

Day trip to Salzburg

One day in Salzburg

While on a recent city break to Munich (read about it here), we decided to take the train to Salzburg, Austria for the day. So how did we spend 1 day in Salzburg?

Getting there

Getting to Salzburg was really straight forward. We booked our tickets in advance and purchased a Bayern Ticket – a travel ticket that can be used on all regional transport including visits inside Bavaria but which also allows travel to the first stop across the border meaning it was valid to travel to Salzburg. The ticket can be purchased for individuals or groups and for 2 of us, worked out at just €32 or €16 return each!

Seats on the train couldn’t be reserved so we arrived at Munich Hauptbahnhof 30 minutes before departure to give us plenty of time to find our platform and get a seat on the train as soon as it arrived. The station was easy to navigate and we soon located the departures board and found our way to the platform to board the train. It took just under 2 hours to reach Salzburg station from Munich!

Sightseeing

From Salzburg Station, it was an easy, straightforward walk towards the city centre. It took about 15-20 minutes to reach Mirabellplatz, home of the famous Mirabell Palace and Gardens.

Mirabell Palace and Gardens

While it is possible to go inside the palace, we decided we probably wouldn’t have time with just a few hours in the city so instead we spent some time strolling around its beautiful gardens, famously featured in the film The Sound of Music. Unfortunately the weather was drizzly and the some of the paths were blocked by large puddles but the rain did nothing to dull the bright colours of the flower filled gardens.

From Mirabellplatz, we passed the small museum at Mozart’s former residence and crossed the pedestrian ‘Love Lock’ bridge from the new side of town to the old town.

Getreidgasse

The street running alongside the river was lined with touristy souvenir stores, pretzel-filled food counters and cafes so we took one of the narrow side roads off the street and found our way to Getreidgasse, a shopping street where ornate signs hang over the store doors. At the far end of the street, we stumbled across the Sound of Music store and museum from where you can take a location tour. Having never actually see the film, I didn’t do this but I have friends who are fans of the movie and have taken the tour and highly recommend it!

Mozart’s Birthplace

Further along Getreidgasse, you will also find Mozart’s Birthplace, now another museum about the composer.

As we wandered up and down the side streets in the old town, we stumbles across Universitatplatz where there was a small market with stalls selling, among other things, souvenirs that were a bit cheaper than in the stores we’d passed. There was also a food van selling giant pretzels in various sweet and savoury flavours – perfect for a lunchtime snack!!

Pretzel stand in Universitatplatz
Mozart statue in the centre of Mozartplatz

Not far from University Square is Residenezplatz, where we got our first glimpse of Salzburg Cathedral, and the adjoining Mozartplatz where a statue of the composer stands proudly in the centre. We followed the road leading around the cathedral, past a game of giant chess going on in Domplatz, to the cathedral entrance and went to have a quick look inside.

Next to the Cathedral, was St Peter’s Abbey. We wandered through its grounds, the Petersfriedhof or St Peter’s Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in the city of Salzburg and which, along with the Abbey’s catacombes, also featured in The Sound of Music film.

St Peter’s Abbey and Cemetery
View of the fortress on the hill

Behind the abbey, was the terminus for the funicular railway which takes visitors up the steeps hill to Fortress Hohensalzburg. It is possible to hike u to the fortress but we decided against this and instead bought a value ticket which gave us a return trip on the funicular railway as well as entrance to all parts of the fortress and its museums.

The main reason for visiting the fortress has to be the stunning views over the city from the fort’s grounds. We took the audio tour of the salt rooms which took us up to one of the towers for a 360 degree view of the surrounding city and the mountains looming in the distance.

In one of the state rooms

The fortress museums did not take long to look around and in all honesty, our ticket upgrade giving us access to the state rooms probably wasn’t worth it as there really wasn’t a lot to see in the couple of rooms this allowed us into although there did seem to be a few sections of the fortress closed off for renovations on the day we visited.

As we left the fortress, the drizzle turned to a full on downpour. We abandoned our plan to walk down the hill back into the city and instead made use of our return ticket to ride the funicular down. Hoping it would be a passing shower, we made our way back to Mozartplatz and went for tea and a slice of traditional Sacher Torte chocolate cake at Glockenspiel Cafe. Being in a touristy area, the refreshments were a bit pricier than usual but the cake was so light and absolutely delicious!

A slice of Sacher Torte!

With the rain not abating, we walked back to Getreidgasse and spent some time shopping to keep dry before it was time to walk back to the station for our evening train back to Munich. While we could easily have filled another day or so in Salzburg taking a walking tour, visiting the palace and its many museums or, in better weather, taking a riverside walk or a river cruise, a day had been long enough to see the main sights and get a flavour of the pretty city. And it’s definitely a city I’d like to return to someday.

Read about my Munich city break.

Munich City Break

What did Munich have to offer?

Last week, I flew out to Munich for a few days. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it’s not my first time in the city. On my last visit though, 11 years ago now, I was there less than 24 hours and had only 2 of those hours to get out into the city – and then the main aim was finding somewhere for dinner, not sightseeing!

So this time, while the reason for my visit – a Backstreet Boys concert! – was the same, I wanted my experience of the city to be very different. With this in mind, we booked 4 nights in the city giving us 3 fulls days and 2 bits of a day at either end of the trip to explore.

Travelling to the city from Munich airport

We had investigated in advance our options for getting to our hotel from the airport – taxi, bus or S-Bahn train – and decided to opt for the train. We easily followed the green ‘S’ sign out of the arrivals terminal and to the train station and the ticket machines could be put into English and were straight forward to use. Again, from a bit of pre-planning, we knew which station we needed to get to and the ticket type and price we needed so we could see that the price and details that came up on the screen matched what we expected. For those of you not comfortable using the ticket machines, you could queue for a counter service instead.

The S1 and S8 trains both run in the direction of the Hautpbahnhof – Munich’s Central Station and while our hotel was walkable from here, we got off one stop away at Hackebrucke station which was slightly nearer. We had noted down directions to our hotel from here and found it straight away without any problems.

Where to stay in Munich

We could probably have done a bit more research on this. On my first visit to the city, we had stayed in Hotel Mirabelle which offered triple rooms and was walkable from the station. This was slightly out of our price range this time. Our search concentrated on hotels within our budget which included breakfast and were walkable from the main station so that we could get to the concert easily. We booked at Hotel Munich City which fulfilled both criteria but being west of the station was a slightly longer walk from the main part of the city – about 30 minutes stroll from Karlsplatz, 15-20 mins walk from the main station – than we’d have really liked and not quite close enough to the metro train system that it made using this instead of walking time efficient. Apart from this though, the hotel was fine for our needs. The room was on the small side but we didn’t spend much time in it anyway and breakfast was excellent!

Sightseeing in Munich

After booking our trip and doing some research on the city, we found that maybe we’d overestimated how much time we’d need in Munich as it’s quite a compact city with less touristy things to do – that appealed to us at least – than we’d thought. Therefore we decided to book a few trips out of the city to fill 2 of our full days there (I’ll review these is a separate post when I get the chance!).

Fountain at Karlsplatz
Karlsplatz Gate

Upon arrival at our hotel, our main priority was finding food. Being a Sunday evening, this wasn’t as straight forward as it sounds, especially when you’re two fussy eaters who don’t want to go near the various sausage-filled Bavarian cuisine most touristy restaurants that were open were offering!! While wandering around looking for somewhere that served food that we ate at a price we could afford, we found ourselves passing many of the city’s main squares. Karlsplatz and the shopping street leading from it’s gate, was familiar to me from my last visit although this time the huge fountain in the middle of the square was switched on. The square is surrounded by various shops and fast food restaurants and if you follow the subway escalator down you’ll find an underground mall with more eating and shopping opportunities.

After strolling down the high street from Karlsplatz, we found ourselves in Marienplatz, home of the Rethhaus or Townhall. This square is famous for its Glockenspiel Clock which chimes at certain times throughout the day. We arrived just in time to see its last display of the day. While it was fun to watch at first, it went on for a long time!!!

Off on a Segway Tour

We also wandered past Munich’s Cathedral with its twin towers and past Promenadeplatz, randomly the home of a Michael Jackson Memorial set up by fans in front of a hotel he once stayed at, before settling on L’Osteria restaurant for dinner, an Italian chain serving huge pizzas.

Our Segways lined up during a break in Englischer Garten

The next day, we had booked ourselves on a Segway Tour of the city with Fat Tyre Tours. We have taken segway tours in a few US citied over the last few years and always find them a fun way of seeing the highlights of a city. We figured we could return to anywhere that looked interesting after the tour had finished and spend more time there.

The 3.5 hour tour started at Karlsplatz and then took us up though the Old Botanic Gardens into Konigsplatz and past some of the city’s museums before a stop in Odeonsplatz to visit one of the beautiful Theatine Church and a ride around the courtyards of the Munich Residenz Palace. Later, we rode into the Englischer Garten Park where we stopped for coffee and watched surfers riding the ‘Munich Wave’ on the River Isar. We followed the river back into the main part of the city and battled our way past the busy Viktualienmarkt and Petersplatz before returning to Karlsplatz.

As well as getting to see a lot of the city in less time than it would have taken walking or using public transport, we also learnt a lot including where the famous ‘biergarten’ had originated from!!

After a lunch stop, we decided to return to the Viktualienmarkt area we’d earlier whizzed past and spend a bit of time going around the market and visiting it’s biergarten. The market is a great place to visit if you’re after some cheap souvenirs or want to grab some food and there was a great atmosphere at its busy biergarten.

The Biergarten in Viktualienmrkt

That was all we had time for in the city that day as we had to get ready to go over to the Olympic Park for the evening’s concert.  The Olympic Park can be reached easily by train from Odeonsplatz and is home to a few of the city’s tourist attractions.  It is where you need to head to if you’re into your cars and want to tour the BMW Factory and Museum and is also home to the TV Tower with it’s observation deck.  We had thought about heading out a bit earlier so we could go up to the observation deck but unfortunately, the weather took a turn for the worse and we decided there wouldn’t be much of a view at that point!

The Monopteros in Munich’s Englischer Garten

After spending the next 2 days doing trips out of the city, we had a few hours on the last morning of our trip to do some last minute sightseeing. With the rain finally stopping and the sun coming out, we decided to get the train to one of the stops near to the Englischer Garten and explore the park a bit more. We walked in to the park from the west side and followed the main path towards the Monopteros, a Greek style circular structure on top of a hill in the middle of the park.

We climbed up the hill to the tower and sat and enjoyed the sunshine and view across the park for a while before wandering through the park up to the large boating lake and past its biergarten. Before we knew it, it was time to return to the city centre and walk back to our hotel to collect our luggage before returning to the airport.

The boating lake in Englischer Garten

I’d enjoyed my trip to Munich and having more time to see the city this time around and would definitely recommend it as a short break destination!

Upcoming trip to Munich

So although a lot of my posts will be about trips I’ve been on over the last few years, there’s rarely a time that goes by when I’m not busily planning a new adventure. In fact, I’m currently planning 4! The first of which is a 4 night break in Munich, Germany!

One of the few photos I have from my previous trip to Munich!

I’m a huge pop music fan, especially late 90s/early 00s pop music. And I like going to concerts. A lot. So when I can tie in my passion for music with my passion for travel, I’m a very happy bunny! Just last week, I was in Sheffield on a city break during which I saw Take That in concert and at the end of 2017, I toured the UK seeing my favourite pop band, Steps, all over the country. But this year, I’m extra lucky as my favourite boyband, Backstreet Boys, are touring. Being an international band means the opportunity to see them outside of the UK. Over the years I have not only travelled throughout the UK and been to various cities in Europe to see them but tied in holidays to the USA and Australia with their concert dates just to make my trips that bit more exciting.

So this year, I’m going to a *few* shows, the first of which will be Munich in late May. I’ve been to Munich once before, funnily enough also to see Backstreet Boys in concert, but it was sandwiched in the middle of a 3 night trip also including Stuttgart and Leipzig so we spent less than 24 hours there and had very little time to sight-see. This time, I want to come away feeling like I actually got to know the city.

One of the few bits of Munich I saw on my last trip!

We’re flying hand-luggage only with a budget airline and staying in a budget hotel near the Hautbahnhof. Both were booked through expedia to get loyalty points to spend against future trips as well as through cashback site Quidco to reduce our costs. Our hotel rate includes breakfast and we’re hoping it’s the kind where we can sneak out a bread roll and a bit of cheese or ham to make our lunchtime sandwich too! Food-wise, Germany does slightly concern me – I don’t like German sausage, sauerkraut or apple strudel, my tastes in general are very plain. So we’ll probably end up looking for pizza or burgers rather than trying anything traditional!

We have a segway tour of the city planned for our first day. Segways are something I’d never considered in the past – in fact I thought the idea a bit of a waste thinking you’d be too busy whizzing around to actually see anything or take photos of anything – but since deciding to give it a go a few years ago, I’ve been hooked and we thought it would be a fun way of finding a bit out about the city and getting our bearings. Hopefully we’ll see some things we want to return to and spend more time at over the rest of our trip.

Rather than spending the entire time in Munich city itself, we also have some trips out planned, the first of which is a visit to the ‘Disney’ castle. We’ve booked this as an organised coach trip as getting there by public transport using trains and buses sounded a bit too complicated. This way, we’ll be picked up, taken by coach to the castle, given time to look around, taken to a second castle, given time to look around that one and then be driven back to Munich. At least that’s what the itinerary on the company website tells us. Hopefully it’ll run to plan just like that!

Not only will we not be spending our entire trip in Munich but on one of the days we’re planning on leaving Germany completely for a day trip to Salzburg, Austria. We thought long and hard about doing this as an organised trip vs using public transport and eventually decided to go it alone. We’ve pre-booked special tourist tickets – which were a lot cheaper than we expected them to be – which get us to and from Salzburg station, giving us about 8 hours there which will hopefully be enough to see a few of the main sights. We’re still in the early stages of planning this day and may look up a suggested walking route/one day itinerary to follow.

If you’ve visited Munich – or Salzburg – and have any tips, suggestions, must-sees etc then please let me know in the comments below!