A Travellerspoint blog

Amsterdam, St. Anton, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Köln & Hamburg

View Our adventure so far on julesandjosh's travel map.

Hi Friends,

We have learnt the hard way about regularly spending time writing about our travels to keep this blog going, so find yourself a cosy spot and settle in because there is a lot to catch you all up on.

Last time we left you we were heading off to Amsterdam: famous for its open-minded, everything goes attitude and home of bikes, dikes (of the water management kind) and ‘coffee’. It is also perhaps the only city where you can walk down a street and within 50 metres see a kindergarten, scantily clad ladies in red-lit windows and a 800 year old church (the oldest building in Amsterdam)! Sorry in advance for the lack of photos in Amsterdam, we lost the photos taken on our good camera and only have the ones taken on our phones.

The first thing that one notices when arriving in Amsterdam is the plethora of bicycles - Amsterdammers travel everywhere on their bikes! The city is well equipped with wide bike paths and traffic lights specifically for cyclists - as cycling advocates ourselves we were very impressed! Interestingly enough, people on bikes seem to get right of way over traffic and pedestrians, they run red lights, talk on their phones, weave in and out of traffic- all without helmets! The cyclists all appeared comfortable criss-crossing over each other, pedestrians and other traffic some with three people on a normal bike!!!

The bikes themselves are pretty cool, some of the people here have attached carts between the front wheel and the handlebars which they load up with groceries or small children and pets. Bike theft is as common as bike-riding in Amsterdam so there is almost a competition to have the worst looking bike (on average a person living in Amsterdam can expect to have their bike stolen once a year) and as a result the bikes look very old worldly (low seats and high handlebars) and are quite rusty. There is a convenient loophole for thieves who steal bikes, where the fine for littering (i.e. throwing a “borrowed” bike in a canal) is significantly less than being caught with the stolen goods. As a result, approximately 25,000 are dredged from the canals each year which is estimated to be about a quarter of the bikes stolen annually.

We were very keen to explore the city by bike and luckily our hostel rented them for 12Euros a day. It was lots of fun riding over canals (even though the water reminded us quite a bit of the Yarra) and through Vondel Park, though we did have to keep thinking about riding on the right side of the road (particularly when turning corners off main streets). It would be lovely to ride around Amsterdam again during warmer months.
Now, everyone knows what Amsterdam is most famous for – its ‘green’ reputation. During a walking tour of the city our guide explained the historical circumstances that have led to the current-day ‘tolerance’ of recreational cannabis use. In years gone by Amsterdam had a serious problem with hard drugs – predominately heroin – and the associated crime. It was identified that the issue was being exacerbated by the incarceration of many recreational cannabis users who were exposed to harder drugs during imprisonment. In an effort to curb this evolution of cannabis users into consumers of harder drugs a decision was made to effectively “turn a blind eye” to cannabis use. This has evolved into the current-day tolerance.

Amsterdam now has a relatively low cannabis use within the local population (only 6%). The vast majority of use is by tourists (no surprise there) and this contributes a significant amount of revenue to the economy. Although the sale and use of cannabis is still illegal in Amsterdam there are a limited number of ‘Coffeeshops’ currently licenced to sell cannabis. There are strict controls relating to these licences and any breaches result in licence forfeiture. There has been a move to reduce the number of Coffeeshops and so current licences are not being renewed and no further licences will be issued.

While we were in Amsterdam we saw the main sites, enjoyed some cheese tasting, ate the most amazing gourmet burgers and even saw Amsterdam’s smallest house (which is about as wide at two doors)! Historically Amsterdam was a merchant city with trade occurring along the canals. As a result, waterfront property was in high demand and properties were taxed based on their frontage. To minimise tax, property owners constructed very narrow, tall buildings. Glancing upwards around the beautiful city one notices that many of the buildings appear to be leaning to one side. The city of Amsterdam is situated on an extensive area of swamp-ground. To prevent sinking, all buildings in the entire city are balanced on an extensive network of wooden stilts that are set deep into the ground. Newer buildings are set on steel stilts but this is very costly so not many new buildings or homes are constructed in Amsterdam.
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We decided to go to the Van Gogh Museum while we were in town. It was great to see the world’s biggest collection of Van Gogh’s artworks and learn more about the Dutch painter who became famous after his death in 1890. The museum was set out in a chronological manner so the progression of his works and life as an artist could be seen.

On our last day in Amsterdam we headed off to the “Secret Annex” which is in a really beautiful part of town that obviously has a dark past. It was really interesting to walk through the secret rooms in which Anne Frank spent over two years in hiding. Seeing the images Anne had pasted on the walls of her bedroom to make it ‘more cheerful’ and walking through the small cramped living areas gave us a surface glimpse of how difficult it would be to live there in fear and secrecy without leaving. The museum included video interviews with Anne’s father Otto Frank and a childhood friend of Anne’s who like Anne, also went to the Bergen Belson Concentration Camp. It was a worthwhile experience and we highly recommend it.
After a week in the Dutch Capital it was time to head back to the even cooler climate of an alpine region in Austria- St. Anton! We arrived at our alpine accommodation – Gafluna - to be met by our lovely hosts Eric and Andrea. Eric walked us through the ins and outs of the ski resort, setting us up for a great week of snowboarding. Josh had a fantastic week in the snow but unfortunately Juli took a pretty bad stack on the third day and was too sore to go back out again. During our stay we met lots of lovely people and we will be catching up with two of them in Cologne. While we were in St. Anton we decided our next move should be to explore some main German cities where we would both like to live, so our next stop was Stuttgart!

We took it pretty easy for our first few days in Stuttgart so that Juli could rest some more, venturing out for the occasional coffee and to the local supermarket so we could make dinner at the hostel. The one major thing that we did do was visit the Mercedes Benz Museum. The museum comprises 9 floors of vehicles and Mercedes Benz history, starting from the invention of the automobile in 1885. It was interesting to see the development of the vehicles over time and learn about the involvement of Mercedes Benz in the Nazi period. The Mercedes Racing Simulator was definitely the highlight of the visit though!
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Frankfurt – the financial centre of Germany (aka “Bankfurt”) - was home of the next stage in our little expedition. Our hostel was located in an interesting part of town (the red light district) which made for notable people-watching over breakfast. The “Frankfurt on Foot” walking tour on our first day took us through many of the historical sites of this city. We spent most of our time wandering around the friendly city with our new friends (Em and Tom – from Foster, NSW). It was great to meander through the flea and fresh produce markets – eating bratwurst in bread and very tasty Vanilla Berliners. IMG_2907.jpg 90_IMG_2894.jpg 90_IMG_2913.jpg IMG_2870.jpg
One great contrast between European cities and Australia, which particularly stood out in Frankfurt, is the acceptance of all kinds of doggies in shopping centres, cafes and restaurants! It’s just great to have a friendly little Dachshund-cross come to say hello while one is enjoying a coffee and some Apfelbrot.
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During our stay we mentioned to Em and Tom that we were heading to Cologne and Hamburg after Frankfurt. They were already thinking of heading in a similar direction and were keen to join us!

After four nights in Frankfurt we travelled north with Em and Tom to Cologne (it smelt nice). We took a tour of the Köln Cathedral (of which construction commenced in 1248) and then climbed 533 stairs to the top platform for a beautiful view of the city. Joy and Kathrin (who we met in Innsbruck) gave the four of us a night tour of their lovely city and we went to a funky Italian restaurant for dinner. Night times were spent meeting other travellers in the communal kitchen and playing card games. Another Aussie traveller that we met in Köln had plans for an epic journey. Dale - a true Aussie - is planning to buy a motor bike in England and ride his way down to South Africa this year – which we think is equally brave, cool and scary (he said that his travel insurance was through the roof so he didn’t get any). Included is a photo of Debbie who we met while having a coffee, Josh in the Lego shop in Köln and a few photos of our day trip to Dusseldorf.
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Next stop was Hamburg. Once again we thought the best way to get a feel for the city was to go on the free walking tour. The morning started out beautifully with blue sky and sunshine but unfortunately it turned around quite quickly – not that it dampened out spirits. Interestingly enough on the tour we learnt that Hamburg has more bridges than any other European city and also has the oldest door handle in Europe, dating back to 1342 – just in case anyone is thinking about going on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”
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We decided to go to go to the #1 attraction in Hamburg according to Trip Advisor: “Miniatur Wunderland”! A little sceptical at first, yes, but it didn’t fail to impress. The model world comprises 1,300 square metres of terrain and over 215,000 figurines. The amount of detail is incredible with everything from aircraft taking off and landing to firefighters doing their thing and people making the most of the sunshine on the nudie-beach. The official video will give you some insight as to the feel of the place. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ACkmg3Y64_s
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After we finished in Wunderland we had to return to the real (‘ly big) world. There is quite a big shipping port in Hamburg and so we took to the seas (on a ferry), channelling Klaus Störtebeker (a famous Hamburg pirate) and braved edging out to the bow to re-enact the timeless scene from Titanic.

As we were in Hamburg there was one thing that we just had to do and no doubt you can guess! After Googling “best burgers in Hamburg” and a scary walk through a dodgy part of the city we arrived at our dinner destination. It turns out that “Best burgers in Hamburg” is their slogan and not a statement based on any real evidence! The four of us didn’t like the look of the place as we approached but after our long walk through a series of dark alleys we were happy to find somewhere well-lit to escape to! In the end the burgers were quite good and after a solid feed we chose the train as our preferred method of transport back to the hostel.

Yesterday after our ritual morning stop at Lohas Coffee we went for a stroll through a beautiful big park in the city and had lunch along the Binnenalster.
Today we say goodbye to our awesome travel buddies Em and Tom and head off to Copenhagen for a few days before flying south to Italy for (you guessed it) more snowboarding!

Ta-ta for now,
Josh and Jules

Posted by julesandjosh 23:05 Comments (0)

Gyor, Budapest, Prague and Berlin

With our next destination being Hungary, I’m sure you’ll all be expecting lots of terrible puns about Josh’s constant need for food – but we’re going to resist the temptation.

Juli’s brother Keith spent a year over in Hungary through a Rotary Exchange Program and became very close to his host family. Keith has spoken very highly of his host family and time in Hungary. While we were in Austria, Roland (Keith’s host brother) offered to show us around Budapest and his home town of Gyor – needless to say we were eager to satisfy our hunger to meet Roland, his family and see some of Hungary.

By the time we arrived at Gyor Train Station we were absolutely famished. To our delight, there to meet us was Roland! From the train station Roland drove us through the streets of Gyor, highlighting the historical and cultural significance of various parts of the town. We then arrived at the family home where his lovely mum Csilla had prepared a traditional Hungarian meal of Chicken Paprikash and dumplings for lunch. Pretty much as soon as we had walked in the door we engaged in an important Hungarian tradition - sharing a drink of Palinka (the plum kind on this occasion)! This tradition marks the point when one can transition from using the formal case of the Hungarian language to the informal (not that either of us can speak more than three words of Hungarian but we both think it is a great way of relaxing and knowing you are with friends!)

Csilla is an amazing cook and we enjoyed talking and eating – Roland translating between Csilla and us. After Josh had eaten three hefty lunch servings and a couple of slices of apple cake, Roland took us up to a very old Monastery outside the city centre were we watched the sun set. Roland then took us on a very interesting night tour of Gyor’s city centre, during which we stopped and ate Langos - a deep-fried dough traditionally topped with sour cream and cheese (very tasty). Later we went to a cool 80s-themed coffee house to warm up with hot drinks.
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The following day was spent in exploring Budapest and Roland continued to amaze us with his extensive knowledge of the history of Hungary. We finished the day with another traditional Hungarian meal, before Roland made his way back to Gyor.
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We were hungering for something active to do and after learning about the expansive caves under Budapest we signed up for a guided caving tour. We sported the glamorous overalls provided by the tour operator and descended the rusty, slippery ladder into the cave! The next three hours involved hard work climbing slimy rocks, crawling through narrow crevices and developing an appreciation for the health and safety regulations we have in Australia!
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The following day we were a little bruised and battered from the caving so we decided to go to one of Budapest’s thermal baths. Budapest is situated on natural warm springs and so there are many different bath houses around the city. We were happy to use big main bath outside but there were many different and smaller baths inside as well. The mineral-rich 38 degrees C water outside was lovely and the 5 degree ambient air temperature provided a refreshing contrast to the warm water! So after a quick sprint to the water the only other thing you needed to worry about was getting back out again.
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We enjoyed a wonderful time in Hungary but we were both itching to snowboard some more! The unseasonably warm weather in Europe meant that many of the smaller, Eastern European ski fields had very little snow. This meant that we had to Czech where we wanted to go next…

We decided it was our Prague-gative to – yep, you guessed it - head north to Prague (maybe that pun was a little bit of a stretch- sorry). On our first day in this magical place we decided to go with another free walking tour to get a taste of the city. Our guide Filip was a Czech himself so it was good to get a tour by a local who was very proud and knowledgeable about the history of his country. Unfortunately, Mother Nature delivered a mix of snow, rain and plenty of fog. As a result, we were walking around with poor visibility and getting progressively wetter and colder (you can’t win every time)! We of course didn’t let this dampen our spirits, making plenty of terrible puns while we were ‘Czech-ing’ things out.

Our second day in Prague was much better, we had a slow morning watching some of the Australian Open and then hit the streets again. It was Prague’s first proper day of snow and we explored the city at our own pace taking too many photos of the magical cobbled streets with coloured terraced buildings, the River Vltava and periodically visiting coffee houses to warm up/eat/get a good coffee fix etc.
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Next stop was Berlin and this would have to be our favourite city so far. Our hostel was themed like a circus – complete with a Ring Master in the lobby, entering the hostel through a lion's mouth and bright fun colours. Down stairs in The Circus was a great little café/bar called Katz und Maus where we usually started our day with breakfast and finished it with a drink. Winter has really started to set in with temperatures between minus 10-18degrees, so we have finally allowed ourselves to wear thermals under our jeans and it has made a big difference.
We wandered the city and saw some of the sights including the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, what is left of the Berlin Wall, 'The Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe' as well as visiting Fassbender & Rausch (the largest chocolaterie in the world - which made the Brandenburg Gate you see in the photo out of over 300kg of solid chocolate). There was a range of great restaurants recommended to us by locals, including a German pub themed like the Black Forrest - ‘Schwartzwald’ - where we learnt that traditional German food does not solely consist of sausages, schnitzel, beer and bread. In this much colder climate we welcomed good, hot meals even more and perhaps even appreciated the taste to a greater extent.
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Another highlight of Berlin was visiting the Pergamon Museum (on Museum Island) where we learnt about the Pergamon Altar, the museum’s Antiquity Collection and the history of Babylon from its beginnings in the 3rd millennium B.C. to its slow demise. We both felt in awe of the reconstructed Processional Way and Ishtar Gate which today are the most famous buildings of Babylon. It was amazing to see where countless fragments of the animals have been pieced together with some parts of the wall to show a reconstruction that largely matches the original.
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Both of us had heard a lot about Berlin and the street art that can be found around the city in all shapes, sizes and mediums so we spent an afternoon trekking around in the cold and took some photos of what we saw. To see huge works on the sides of buildings was pretty cool and it was fun to note that some works could be manipulated to interact their surroundings (e.g. the astronaut can be seen to be holding the lamppost). There were other cute works including little monsters on the bottom of posts. We hope you like the photos.
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We celebrated Australia Day in Berlin at our hostel bar drinking Aussie beer and eating vegemite on bread. It was quite a good turnout with other travellers from our hostel and some Australians who have made Berlin their home (funnily enough we found out that most big cities in Germany actually have an Aussie-Rules football club, and the Australian-Berliners have asked Josh to be part of their team if we decide to move here).

Today we are off to Amsterdam and will update again soon.

Thank you to those who have left comments, been in contact to touch base or let us know what you have thought of the blog- we are having a wonderful time but it is lovely to hear from home.
Josh and Jules

Posted by julesandjosh 11:44 Comments (5)

The Beginning of Our Journey

View Our adventure so far on julesandjosh's travel map.

After spending a beautiful week with our families over the Christmas period it was time for us to set out on our exciting adventure. Josh with his dreams of amazing snowboarding and Juli with her whimsical ideas about Europe (“Do you think everyone in Austria wears ‘play clothes’ and people in Netherlands all wear wooden shoes?”) The 23 hour journey started with us on opposite sides of Australia with a plan to meet at Singapore Airport.
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After spending a beautiful week with our families over the Christmas period it was time for us to set out on our exciting adventure. Josh with his dreams of amazing snowboarding and Juli with her whimsical ideas about Europe (“Do you think everyone in Austria wears ‘play clothes’ and people in Netherlands all wear wooden shoes?”) The 23 hour journey started with us on opposite sides of Australia with a plan to meet at Singapore Airport.

The flights over to Singapore were really great (Josh being impressed with the emergency exit row and Juli moving down the list of free cocktails in her drinks menu). After Josh’s trekking through the airport to Juli’s gate and giving up on her (flight ever arriving) he left. Juli arrived and saw no sign of Josh but spotted him in the distance and ran like Bridget Jones to Mr Darcy. After our reunion we chased the New Year celebrations from Singapore to Munich on a 13 hour flight.
We arrived fatigued on New Year’s morning, but we were probably feeling better than most of you. We collected our bags and checked into the Euro Youth Hostel around 7am and were rewarded with a free breakfast! As it was New Year’s Day, most establishments in the city were closed. With this in mind we strolled into Marianplatz in the centre of Munich for a free walking tour around the city. Our English tour guide Jon was both informative and entertaining as we made our way around the city learning about its history, architecture and ‘gut bier’.

Our second day in München was quite a bit darker - we visited the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. Watching movies and reading books doesn’t prepare you for visiting a site like this in person. We learnt about the development of the camp from its early days housing political prisoners, to the later years, as an infamous concentration camp. Many of the original structures at the site have been preserved from the time the camp was liberated by The Allies. This was at the request of the surviving prisoners, to ensure that future generations could gain some insight into the events that transpired in these camps. What was really confronting during the day was walking through an original gas chamber and past the ovens used to cremate the bodies. We had a quiet journey back into Munich reflecting on what we had seen. We finished this difficult and eye-opening day with something a little lighter: currywürst, glühwein and crepes.
The next day it was time for the part of the trip Josh had been most looking forward to – snowboarding in Innsbruck, Austria! A two hour scenic train ride took us directly from Munich to Innsbruck on Friday the 3rd of January.

The next week was spent having an amazing time on a range of different slopes, including Stubai Glacier – a 365 day skiing resort!!! We both had an amazing time ‘off piste’ (practically floating on fresh untouched snow), eating surprisingly good food on the mountains (see the below photo of Josh) and finishing with a 10km ride to the bottom of the mountain (unheard of in Australia). There was just one thing that was missing, the snow was so dry that Juli couldn’t make snowballs to throw at Josh but they both settled for more glühwein and currywürst – not a bad compromise. 
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When Josh could be dragged away from the slopes we enjoyed walking around the ‘old town’ and trying out as much Deutsch as possible - thankfully the locals were very patient. Accommodation wise, we were staying in The Glockenhaus which is an old 1800s factory for guns and canons. Later it became a factory for bells and that is where the name ‘house of bells’ comes from. The host was lovely but the overall hygiene of the facilities left a bit to be desired. Funnily enough for about half the time we were staying there 6 out of the 8 people in our room were fellow Australian travellers!
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During the last couple of days in Innsbruck we had the difficult task of trying to work out where we were to go next. With so many options it was a really hard task but we decided to head east to Vienna- again we travelled by train because we would be able to see a lot more of the country side – we weren’t disappointed.

Since arriving in Vienna, we have enjoyed exploring what this beautiful city has to offer – indulging in the local cuisine, cycling around the city, going to the opera and visiting the Schoβ Schӧnbrunn Palace, we even went to the Schmetterling Haus (butterfly house)- Josh’s idea. Today we are off to Hungary.
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We will aim to post on this blog roughly once a week.

Please feel free to comment below or share your thoughts on other destinations we might like to visit. We would really appreciate you keeping us posted on what is happening back home, we have regular access to the internet and are available on email and facetime.

Lots of love,
Josh and Juli

Posted by julesandjosh 03:35 Comments (4)

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