A tale of two chapters of travel

Europe Journey 2015 – 46 days, 6 countries

j&P collage2The best way to discover more about yourself is to step away from familiar surroundings and travel to new places as far away from home as you can imagine.

Our recent trip that closely followed an eight-week trip to Europe last year felt like a continuation or a second chapter of travel.

The weather was perfect during our trip last year (chapter one) and when the sun shines everything sparkles. We visited areas of Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Italy. I loved the newness and discovery of things I’d only heard about or seen in photos and felt like an excited child opening presents on Christmas morning. No matter how advanced photographic technology has become I discovered it is impossible to fully capture nature’s beauty. Printed images lack depth and appear overlaid with an unnatural filter. You need to physically experience the magnificence of nature and the world using all your senses. Standing beneath the majestic Alps in Switzerland under a cloudless sky breathing in the crisp mountain air was electrifying and woke me from a hibernation from life. During the first chapter almost everything seemed magical. On reflection this wasn’t always true but it is how it felt at the time.

During our latest trip (chapter two) we travelled around the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Austria and Germany. This time the weather was mostly gloomy and cold despite travelling at exactly the same time as last year. The first nine days it rained most days and the sky remained grey making it difficult to plan sight-seeing activities. However in Paris the sun shone in a cloudless sky for three days allowing discovery and appreciation of everything this cosmopolitan city offers.   As quickly as the sun appeared it again disappeared on the morning we left Paris and for the rest of our trip only ever appeared intermittently amongst a whole lot of rain and fog.

During chapter two we felt the tension bubbling in countries trying to limit entry of refugees fleeing the Syrian Civil War. Although we don’t speak French or German we sensed this issue causing anxiety in European countries. At the border entry to Germany from Austria we sat in a traffic queue kilometres long while 10 police peered into every car and truck wanting to gain entry into Germany. The mood was somber and apprehensive.

My highlight of chapter two was seeing the Lippizan stallions perform at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, our days in Paris, visiting Salzburg and the storybook surrounding Austrian countryside. I also adored the bright floral window boxes and obvious house proudness of the Austrian and German people.

Chapter one was akin to falling in love for the first time and during chapter two it became like an old love that deepened and become more realistic. Although the level of excitement was subdued during chapter two I enjoyed the countries and places we visited more than I did on our first trip. I related to life in France more than I did in Italy and saw much more of Austria and Germany, which I adore, during chapter two.

During chapter one I felt like I was floating on air but in chapter two I thought about things on a deeper level. I imagined how the two world wars must have affected the people who lived in the places I visited. I thought about how the refugees must feel fleeing from their country to an alien land where people speak a foreign language and don’t seem to want to provide the required assistance. I thought about how living in another country is so different yet so familiar. I had more time to think about how I see myself in relation to the world. Although the two trips occurred only one year apart I feel wiser after our second chapter of European travel.

Travelling is fascinating but travelling is also hard work. It puts you outside your comfort zone and challenges you not only to cope with obstacles and disappointments but also to enjoy yourself and learn from new experiences. Travelling with my husband of almost 30 years is a joy and has strengthened our already rock solid relationship. We compliment each other like yin and yang.

Despite the contrasting nature of both trips  I’ve loved the entirety of the two chapters of our European travel. I’m proud I accepted the challenge to experience all that both trips provided. I’ve learnt much about the world but more importantly I’ve learnt much about myself. However I’m tired after travelling 46 days this trip and 44 days last year and want to return to my home and familiar life which I now have an even greater appreciation for.

Something deep down inside tells me that there will not be a chapter three but I’ve learnt that nothing is definitive and that only time will tell.

vintage travel lady

Strobl and Salzburg, Austria

Europe Journey 2015 – Day 36 to 39austria stamp2


austria postcard2After the intensity of the large city of Vienna it was a welcome relief to arrive in the charming small quaint village of Strobl on Lake Wolfgangsee. Strobl exudes a peaceful atmosphere where people seem content to relax and enjoy a simple life. Unfortunately during our visit the weather was cold and rainy with the clouds camouflaging the mountains which restricted our sight-seeing activities. I am sure that Strobl would be picture perfect on a lovely sunny day.

The weather was clear on the day we visited Salzburg, an Austrian city on the German border. Salzburg is famous for being the birthplace of Mozart and the setting for the film “The Sound of Music.” The city is divided by the fast flowing Salzach River, with medieval and baroque buildings of the pedestrian Altstadt (Old City) on its left bank.

Salzburg AUSTRIA 2-I found Salzburg endearing. I loved the winding cobblestone lanes with intricate black swirling wrought iron guild signs above each shop and the tidy high, narrow houses tightly nestled together.

We took the funicular to Fortress Hohensalzburg that sits above the baroque towers of the city. This castle in Salzburg is an unmistakable landmark providing the city’s world famous silhouette.

Our day in Salzburg was perfect in every way. It reminded me why we leave our homes and travel to discover the beauty of different places.










Vienna – Austria

Europe Journey 2015 – Day 32 to 35vienna stamp-with-St-Stephen-s-Cathedral-and-the-word-Vienna-Austria-inside-Stock-Vectorvienna-austria_222

Day 32

We drove from Alpbach to Austria’s capital city Vienna that lies in the country’s east on the Danube River.

Day 33

Vienna austriaWe took the local tram to the heart of the city of Vienna and wandered the streets marvelling at the magesty of the historic buildings. Vienna’s Ringstrasse is 5.3 kilometers long and houses monumental buildings built during the period of Historicism in the 1860s to 1890s.

Day 34

Today we visited Schönbrunn Palace, a former Austrian empire summer residence. We wandered through the extensive gardens and saw some of the rooms of the 1,441-room Baroque palace. The decorative garden leads towards a 60-metre-high hill, which since 1775 has been crowned by a Gloriette structure. We walked to the top to see spectacular panoramic views of Vienna.

Day 35 – Spanish Riding School

The Spanish Riding School in Vienna is the only institution in the world that has practiced for nearly 450 years and continues to cultivate classical equitation in the Renaissance tradition of the Haute Ecole.

When I was a teenager girls either liked boys, rock music, ballet or horses. For me it was horses. I read novels about them, plastered my walls with posters of them and watched movies and TV shows about them. I even owned a horse for four years. As I grew to adulthood I put my obsession with horses behind me and got on with establishing a career and raising a family.

One of the reasons we visited Vienna during our trip was to see a performance of the famous Spanish Riding School (Spanische Hofreitschule). Seeing the performance was by far my highlight of this trip, or perhaps any other trip. Being in the Hofburg palace in the same arena as the majestic Lipizzan stallions and their riders sent joy through my body. I imagine people who love fine art or music would derive the same pleasure should they be in the presence of the artists. Watching the horses and riders harmoniously work together to classical music cast a magical spell over me and took my breath away. It was the pinnacle of horsemanship. All my teenage dreams came true, albeit 40 years later.

Later in the day we enjoyed a behind the scenes tour and saw the beautiful Lipizzan stallions in their stables. They were so calm and peaceful; I felt such a strong connection to them.


Alpbach, Austria

austriaEurope Journey 2015 – Day 28 to 31austria stamp2innsbruck



Day 28

Today we left Switzerlnd and arrived in Albach, Austria. Our GPS couldn’t find the address where we are staying so we asked some people in a cafe if they knew the place. They gave us verbal directions that we followed but ended up at the wrong place and asked them if they knew Gitti’s farm. They kindly said they would drive and we could follow them to the place we were staying. Eventually we found our cute authentic cottage, our home for four nights.

In Alpbach the grass is glossy green, the chalets are picture perfect and the smell of cows is in the air. It is approx 1,000m above sea level. Thanks to its homogenous architectural style and lovely floral decorations Alpbach is “Austria´s most beautiful village” and also “Europe´s most beautiful flower village”.

Day 29

Today we walked to a gondola to take us to the top of the mountain and we took a brisk Austrian walk for two hours in 0 degree temperature. The cold crisp air was exhilarating. Before coming down on the gondola we enjoyed a drink in a bar on top of the mountain.

Day 30
innsbruck austria 2 sun shone and the sky was blue so we drove to Innsbruck and ventured to the top of Mount Nordkette, which resembled what I imagine it would be like on the moon. This involved riding in three cable cars to get to the peak, definitely not recommended for people squeamish with heights. Later in the day we wandered in the old town of Innsbruck and then visited the Swarovski exhibition.

Day 31
Travelling for an extended time has its ups and downs, many parts are wonderful but it can also be stressful and tiring at times. Each time I travel I feel lucky to experience a few exceptional moments that make every trip worthwhile.  Usually they happen when I least expect them, which makes them even more special.

Today we went to an Austrian restaurant to hear live music. We hoped it would be traditional music but for all we knew it could have been a punk rock band, luckily it wasn’t. The first challenge was finding the place. After several wrong roads and u-turns on narrow streets we finally found the car park for the place, but there wasn’t a restaurant in sight. We noticed lots of people walking up a mountain and thought they were going for a morning walk. After wandering around the car park a few times we saw an arrow pointing up the mountain to the restaurant with 2km walk on the sign. We thought 2km isn’t far, no problem, but it was entirely uphill, so steep it took your breath away. So up and up and up we walked until we made it to the top to a traditional beer garden with huge wooden seats and benches overlooking the valley. We were the only tourists, which made it even better. The Austrians sure know how to enjoy themselves; the giant beers and schnapps were flowing. Turns out it was traditional Austrian music too. The sun shone, the drinks flowed, the music was great and everyone clapped, cheered and danced and had a fantastic time. The only problem was when it was over we had to walk down the hill again after many beers and wines and food. We took it slowly but we made it.


Vitznau, Switzerland

Europe Journey 2015 switzerland passport stamps
Day 25

vitznau rigiWhat a thrill it was to see Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) again rekindling happy memories of our visit last year. My heart swelled as the sun shone making the lake sparkle; I felt I was greeting a dear friend. After enjoying our brief bout of nostalgia we drove on to Vitznau, a small village on Lake Lucerne where we are staying for three nights. The snow topped green mountains dotted with traditional Swiss chalets left us in no doubt that we were back in Switzerland, what a lovely place to be.

We enjoyed dinner in a restaurant right on Lake Lucerne and watched a beautiful the superb sunset on the horizon.

Day 26

No visit to Vitznau would be complete without a boat cruise around the 38 km long Lake Lucerne with rugged mountains and picturesque villages to observe as the ship gracefully moves through the water. I felt at peace.

Day 27

lucerne switzerland222This was our last of a three day stay in Switzerland and we spent it exploring the wonderful city of Lucerne. We wandered the Altstadt (Old Town) and saw the 14th-century Museggmauer city walls,

Lucerne is known for its turreted buildings and covered bridges including the iconic Kapellbrücke. It has a huge fortress wall (Musegg wall) built in 1386 that we climbed to the top of and walked along to reveal spectacular views of the city.

I’ve always felt disappointed that I was unable to climb the Great Wall when I visited China, as my knee was quite bad then. Today I was very pleased to easily climb the steep steps to the top of the turret.

Day 28

The church bells are ringing to announce 9am and I’m feeling melancholy as I realise I leave Switzerland today probably for the last time in my life. I’ll always treasure memories of the mystical presence the Swiss lakes inspire, the rolling green hills with cows grazing while their bells gently tinkle and the beautiful traditional Swiss chalets shrouded by snow topped mountains.

Sarlat and Aix-les-bains, France

Europe Journey 2015 francesarlat france1 aix-les-bain france

Sarlat- Day 19

Sarlat FranceArrived in beautiful Sarlat, a medieval town representative of 14th century France located in the Perigord Noir region, a few kilometres from the Dordogne river. I’m fascinated by the fact that the buildings in the old town are up to 700 years old.

The area is well-known for ducks, every restaurant menu offers fois gras, duck gizzards and every other French inspired duck delicacy. On Saturdays the old part of town transforms into a market, which we enjoyed strolling around. We spend the afternoon exploring the intricate maze of narrow streets that branch off like rivers from The Rue de la Republique that runs the length of the old town.

Day 20

We took a short drive to Beynac and sailed on a restored riverboat on the Dordogne river. The sun was shining making the river sparkle.  Later we walked up a steep hill to see panoramic views of the beautiful valley and landscape.  Photos are wonderful but never show the intricate detail of the scenery nor the experience of having your breath taken away.

Day 21

Every French town has a monument bearing the names of the people who lost their lives in the wars. For much of my time in France I have been thinking about how the wars must have impacted on the everyday lives of French families. I wonder how people lived in their houses for six years facing the fears and burdens that wartime in your country brings. To me home is a sanctuary, a place to feel safe.  As we drive through towns I imagine how awful it must have been with husbands and sons away fighting in the war while worrying about soldiers invading your home.

aix-les-bain france2Aix-les-bains – Days 22-24

We spent our last three days in France in Aix-les-bains at the foot of the Alps. Unfortunately the weather was against us and we couldn’t appreciate all this town has to offer. Even though the weather was rainy and overcast we took a short trip on Lake Bourget and walked along the marina.


Bordeaux, France

Europe Journey 2015 franceBordeaux-France

Day 16

Today we left our cottage in the Loire Valley and drove 4.5 hours to Bordeaux in southwestern France, our home for the next three nights. The weather is still cloudy with intermittent rain and we are hopeful it will soon brighten up. There is much to see in Bordeaux and we intend to experience as much as possible.

Day 17

Before coming to France I thought Bordeaux was a rural wine growing district but today I discovered how wrong I was. Bordeaux is an architecturally stunning city with unaltered buildings from the middle ages. When we arrived in the city we jumped on a sightseeing bus for a tour around the historic landmarks. We then walked around to see these amazing sites up close. There are many restaurants to choose from and we found the perfect one. Jenna had carrot soup followed by salmon and vegetables; Pierre chose steak and crème caramel. We encountered some language barriers trying to understand the menu and order so the people on the next table helped translate what we wanted to the waiter, (and they were Spanish) so the Spanish people translated our English to French for the waiter. Incredible. After a further four hours of walking and sightseeing we returned to our accommodation feeling exhausted but very appreciative for the opportunity to visit such a wonderful city.

Day 18

Even though the rain was pelting down again we stuck to our plan and drove to Arcachon, a seaside town about 50km away. Luckily the rain held eased for most of the day, except for one mad downpour, but the wind was strong and blustery. Arcachon has similarities to many seaside holiday destinations in Australia. The seaside is something we hadn’t considered as French. Before we came to France we associated it with; Paris (chic big city), vineyards, pretty rural villages, historical grand buildings and medieval townships. The seaside was a surprise addition to our knowledge of France.

We had a seafood lunch overlooking the ocean but the food was a bit disappointing. C’est la vie. Even with the gale force winds we ventured out on to the ocean in a boat for a two-hour trip that took us around the inlet, passed the oyster beds, seaside villas and the famous and largest white sand dunes of Europe, Great Dune of Pyla (white sand in Europe is unusual). We took the tour to find out more about the local area but as soon as the boat took off we realised the captain’s commentary was only in French.