A Travellerspoint blog

Copenhagen

Bikes, Bikes, Bikes but where is the Christiana?

all seasons in one day 22 °C

When in Denmark it is important to do as the Danes do and ride a bike. Copenhagen alone has over 360 kms of bike tracks, and 55% of the population commutes daily! This is the solution for us we thought ... the adults peddling and the kids in a carrier ... EASY! Day 1 - we set out to track down the bike shop for our transport however it was not to be as it was Sunday and most shops were closed. Day 2 - we excitedly set out again map packed. Alas many a shop but none who would cater for the needs of our family. 'The Christiana' was what we needed but we were told but the Christiana was hard to find. After the 4th shop I was thinking of using my trusty Swiss army knife to cut a Christiana loose from the many stacked on the side-walk.

Bikes, Bikes, Bikes

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Day 3 - not to be defeated Dan set off early with the Christiana in his sights (to be obtained legally). He returned triumphantly with the beast in tow ... the kids were ecstatic ... their chariot awaited. No trailing behind mum and dad on foot; a comfy seat; a cover for the rain, and a good view. They were set.

The Christiana

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The bike gave us the freedom we needed and although we were a bit nervous at the start we soon got the hang of it. It was a bit like driving in Italy, keep to one side and let the experts pass by quickly. On bikes we saw the changing of the guard and hoped to hang out with Mary & Frederick as their kids are similar in age, but they were apparently in London for the Olympics.

The Changing of the Guard

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Lisa on Bike

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We explored the coast line and went on board a beautiful Norwegian clinker free of charge. Visited the beautiful botanical gardens and saw the amazing herb garden. An undoubted highlight was a visit to the famous Tivoli Gardens - the second oldest amusement park in the world. They have spent 170 years perfecting the art of draining every last kroner out of your wallet, but they also put on a hell of a show ... some of the rides made you feel ill just watching!

Boat

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Herb Garden and Botanical Gardens

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Amazing Tivoli Gardens

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Climbed to the top of the round tower (Rundetarn) and enjoyed amazing 360 degree views of Copenhagen. Also peddled along the waterfront and enjoyed dinner in a funky local cafe. Made a half-hearted pass at the world's number 1 restaurant - Noma - but thank goodness it was closed for renovations!

Rundertarn

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Noma - No.1 two years running - bank loan anyone?

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Nearly made it back to our hotel room in lovely Nyhavn before the storm hit and we had to shelter under an awning. Rain is common place in the Danish summer and our first two days had been marred by rain and Melbourne Autumnal-like temperatures. It should also be noted that Dan spent an inordinate amount of time trying to track down Sophie Grabol - star of the hit TV show The Killing. Apparently her favourite cafe was just around the corner from our hotel, but alas no Inspector Sarah Lund despite his best efforts ...

Nyhavn

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Copenhagen is a beautiful city and although it is very expensive we really enjoyed the ease of travel on bikes, the wonderful architecture, laid-back vibe, efficiency and organisation.

Posted by happellfamily12 08:32 Archived in Denmark Comments (0)

Morocco

ROYALTY, RAMADAN, AND ROULETTE

Flicking through the Easyjet mag on our flight to Berlin, Dan came across a cheap deal for Morocco. Stay 7 nights pay for 5 and kids eat for free ... why not! Our travel weary feet needed a break, and a bit of resort style living would fit the bill. Flights booked, accommodation booked, credit card frozen (mine) due to suspicious transactions ... too many overseas entries despite it being an o/s card ... priceless.

The travel manager from our team had overlooked the fact that it was Ramadan, but this surprisingly had very little impact on our stay, even though at least 80% of the staff (at a guess) would have been fasting. From the guests' perspective, alcohol was still available with meals ... it was only curtailed as a stand alone activity. On this point, a nice German woman we met who worked at the resort said that many Moroccans were not strictly practising Muslims, and whilst observing Ramadan, would otherwise not be devout followers of Islam. A moderate country indeed ...

Our trip consisted of a train ride from Switzerland; a four hour stopover in Milan (where we could not leave our suitcases at the Station due to a scopero (strike), so this somewhat limited our sight seeing of Milan); and a 3 hour Royal Air Maroc flight. In Milan we did manage to see the stunning Duomo and the equally impressive Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. From Milan centrale out to Malpensa by bus (trains also on scopero), and then we entrusted ourselves to the 112th ranked airline in the world! Suffice to say we got there in one piece, but the clapping upon landing from the predominantly Moroccan passengers did little to increase our confidence levels in the national carrier!

Lighting Candles in Milan

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Accommodation - Mazagan Beach Resort

This resort is only three years old and includes a golf course, wellness centre, two pools, casino, and its own section of private beach (7km). Compared to the surrounding areas the resort is very green and water appears to be in abundance. I am not sure where they source their water from and the use of it does seem excessive when the surrounding areas are so dry. When you are in the resort you are a bit removed from reality. A trip to Casablanca for Dan and I was an eye opener. Many of the areas are extremely poor and children work the fields and donkeys and timber carts are still in operation. However there are pockets of wealth as well including lots of new construction harbour-side and a massive shopping centre the equivalent of a Westfield. We had been warned by our friend Leonie that Casablanca was not much of a city and this proved correct.

The Resort

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Casablanca Town

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Casablanca Beach

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A subsequent trip by Dan to El Jadida gave a much better taste of Moroccan life in a good-sized town. Thriving market; old Portuguese town; bustling port; and many, many locals playing scratch games of fudball.

El Jadida

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As mentioned previously it was Ramadan, so many of the staff were only allowed to eat and drink between sunset and sunrise. I felt sorry for them as the resort guests were filling their plates like pigs at the trough at the all-you-could-eat Market Buffet. Despite the guilt I felt at the excess of the resort, it was a fantastic week and the kids especially loved it. Highlights :

A camel ride along the beach in the late afternoon was a huge success and something we all loved, despite the kids initial fear and high pitched screams as they rose up in the air and snapped their teeth (camels not kids).

Camel Ride

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The coast line was stunning and it was lovely to have a wide uninhabited stretch - morning swims, and afternoon walks/runs were delightful.

A trip to the spa for Dan and I for a bit of off-road pampering.

Chatting to some of the other guests and the kids making new friends at the pool and the kids club.

The Pool and Beach Bar

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Watching the big ball of orange sun sink into the Atlantic Ocean.

The Surf and Sunset

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Improving our non-existent French. Despite it being a beautiful, world class resort, most of the staff spoke Arabic, French, and only a smattering of English. Google Translate again was a saviour.

Casino visit for Dan which was meant to pay for the trip, but ended up putting some Moroccan dirhams into the resort coffers. National laws state that there can only be one casino in a 100km radius ... pity it ended up at Mazagan!

Posted by happellfamily12 09:20 Comments (0)

Switzerland (Lausanne)

The land of the efficient and the expensive.

sunny 24 °C

After missing our Milan to Switzerland train by five minutes due to a train derailment, we were quite looking forward to Swiss efficiency. Especially as the delay had us hanging around in the stifling heat of the Milan train station for an additional 5 hours.

The three hour train trip takes you through stunning Italian and Switzerland towns and beautiful lakes including Lake Maggiore. As you reach Lausanne the train travels along Lake Geneva (or Lac Leman as it is correctly known). This lake is sparkling green and surrounded by tall mountains (some of them still snow capped), steep vineyards and pretty little towns. Arriving in Lausanne it was lovely to be picked up in a car by Loli, but we kept our distance and avoided the French embrace as we were rather rank after 14 hours on the hop. A shower and food and we were soon recovered and catching up with our Swiss/Australian friends. The next day we drove down to the Lake and enjoyed lunch at a local lakeside restaurant ... we had to keep remembering to use 'oui' instead of 'si' and 'merci' not 'grazie'. The cooler weather after weeks of 30+ was lovely, and being driven everywhere was a true luxury. Some of the highlights included:

Aussie BBQ Swiss Style

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  • A trip to Geneva on the flash, efficient, graffiti free, expensive train ($130 for a family). Geneva is on the same lake as Lausanne and has an amazing water fountain and beautiful old town. We were keen to hire free bikes but unfortunately we didn't have our passports. A walk around the lake and a wander into the old town was a great way to get a feel for the city.

Geneva - Old Town

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  • Dan and I enjoyed a bike ride (childfree) from Morges to Ouchy - about 12 kms around the lake. The lake is surrounded by little beaches where families swim and relax, and beautiful houses that have gardens stretching down to the lake - making this a very picturesque part of the world. The bikes are easy to hire and can be left at many of the local depositories in the main parts of the towns.
  • An early departure with kids in tow to walk up to Lac De Taney. This was about an hour and a half walk up rocky paths and through stunning forrested areas. The kids did amazingly well especially given that they didn't have proper walking shoes. Once at the top we swam in the beautiful mountain chilled lake, and had a delicious lunch at a local swiss restaurant. Dan, Loli and Kevin shared a steaming cauldron of fondue (adding back the kilos burnt off in the walk).

The Trek

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A Little Break

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The Latest in Hiking Gear

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What A View

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There at Last

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The Mountain Lake

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Bit Chilly

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Bit Cheesy

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Next Walk

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  • A ferry ride to Montreux where we saw the statue of Freddy Mercury. Loved the ferry, but thought this town was rather overrated with not much to see other than the former front-man for Queen. The famous jazz festival had finished the previous week.
  • A casual run for Dan leading to a search and rescue party (Loli and Kevin) being sent out and his eventual wet and cold return (two hours later) by the kind Serge. (Note to Dan - always take the address or phone with you).

Posted by happellfamily12 13:35 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

Lerici - Berlin - Lucca

LANGUID LIGURIA - BREAKING DOWN THE WALL - WALKING THE WALL

sunny 32 °C

LERICI

Whilst it only rates a couple of paragraphs in Lonely Planet Italy, this port town 20 kms south of La Spezia (gateway to the Cinque Terre) is a gem. Dominated by the 12th century castello, Lerici has historic links to Lord Byron and Percy Shelley.

Porto Venere - gateway to the Cinque Terre

Porto Venere - gateway to the Cinque Terre

We were staying in an apartment overlooking the harbour and the Ligurian Sea courtesy of our Australian travelling companions Leonie & Brent (and their 6yo daughter Hazel who became good mates with Gabi & Nat). Leonie & Brent participate in a worldwide home exchange program, so it was that we found ourselves hosted by the ever-genial Gianluca.

Dan, Gianluca, and Brent enjoy a hard earned local red and aperitivi

Dan, Gianluca, and Brent enjoy a hard earned local red and aperitivi

Gianluca was an interesting contradiction for an Italian. Strongly traditional in that he used to share the house with his grandmother, runs a small business with his father, and still lives in the area he was raised in. Atypical in that he is not married to his long-term girlfriend Rafaella, and they are both inveterate travellers, visiting more countries than there are days in July by my estimate! The average Italian seems to venture overseas infrequently, and usually to 'known' destinations like Switzerland and Greece.

Many happy memories will last from this too-short stay : chats with Gianluca; visiting the beautiful Porto Venere by ferry; poolside aperitivi each evening; and for the little 'uns the frequent swims in said pool with the spectacular backdrop. Italy, or The Azzurri, getting flogged in the Euro 2012 final was the only dampener on our visit - amazing how quiet a town can become!

Mr and Mrs H after a beautiful seafood lunch at Porto Venere

Mr and Mrs H after a beautiful seafood lunch at Porto Venere

BERLIN

Our first exposure to Easyjet (predictably re-named Sleazyjet by the good wife) on the Pisa-Berlin route was a happy one. New plane, efficient German staff, and early arrival ticked the boxes. And being two families with kids, we were allowed to board before the masses (an experience not repeated on our return).

Four days in Berlin was enough to whet our appetite for this fantastic city. It helped that we were staying in the hip area of Mitte, which is only one of two boroughs that comprise parts of the old east & west cities. Hip cafes, stylish clothes shops, bohemian crowd, and tiny neighborhood pubs were just the start. The beautiful old buildings are well maintained, and the city's history is readily accessible through existing monuments and well presented exhibits.

Reichstag from the outside

Reichstag from the outside

Reichstag (new) from the inside

Reichstag (new) from the inside

Some especially tasty meals kicked the German gourmet reputation into touch (Reichstag lunch was our best meal to date), and even the slightly intimidating sight of glamorous 6ft 2" tall 'ladies of the night' working the nearby streets of Mitte did not hinder the amiable party atmosphere that pervaded the area. Surprisingly a shopping trip to the famous KaDaWe store was enjoyable for the blokes as well - a beautifully presented retail outlet with a food court that needs to be seen to be believed. Westfield take note ...

LUCCA

Lucca pre-dates the Roman Empire, and is famous for its intact Renaissance city walls. It is a charming, attractive town, and makes for a pleasant stay inside the walls as vehicle traffic is severely restricted. Leonie introduced us to locals Fabrizio and Giovanna, and they said that 10 years ago there were hardly any tourists, which gives an indication how popular this town has become in the past decade.

wild local children run amok on the walls

wild local children run amok on the walls

Our first night was memorable for running into a singing group from St Michaels Grammar in Melbourne (Alma mater of Asher Keddie). They were performing in the vast and attractive Piazza Anfiteatro, and gave away their nationality by handing out mini koala bears! The irony arose because Gabi is on the St Michaels' wait list, so she was very excited to meet some of her potential schoolmates.

view from apartment kitchen into town centre

view from apartment kitchen into town centre

Leonie & Lisa undertook a 5 day Italian language 'immersion' course - that is, no English spoken - which they enjoyed, although not without some teething problems. I made a few day trips with the kids, including to lovely nearby towns Bagni di Lucca and Montecatini Alto, and we all enjoyed a home cooking lesson with the vivacious Francesca. The runners were dusted off to complete a circumference of the Lucca town walls, whilst the kids and the mums chose the more sedate version of walking, along with many of the locals. The walk around the walls is quite beautiful, with stunning views, usually a refreshing breeze, and a strong sense of community.

Posted by happellfamily12 15:13 Archived in Italy Tagged berlin lucca wall fortified lerici Comments (0)

Observations sul turismo di massa

MASS TOURISM - LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS AND RAISE YOUR TOLERANCE

sunny 32 °C

It has become increasingly apparent from our small travel sample (Bellagio, Positano, Capri, Cinque Terre), that a blissful travel experience struggles to co-exist with a mass tourism destination.

Without that crucial blend of local inhabitants (not employed to 'service' the tourists) and alternative industries, these locations tend to take on a surreal atmosphere, where stampeding crowds of tourists slowly chip away at any remaining goodwill that the townsfolk may possess. Those small exchanges that can add so much to a traveller's day - your broken Italian understood and encouraged by the barista, a potted history from the local fruit vendor - disappear into the maelstrom of rising tempers and ever increasing queues.

blue grotto traffic jam

blue grotto traffic jam

The obvious target for finger pointing are the Americans, but they by no means have a monopoly on poor manners, ignorance of local customs, and a mystifying inability to learn even a few words of the local lingo. On the flipside of this coin, the Italian tourism infrastructure cannot avoid censure. The heavily patronised Rome and Florence train stations have long struggled to cope with the tourist flow, yet despite the enormous revenue they directly (and indirectly) generate, do not appear to have been significantly improved for many a long year.

capri beached out

capri beached out

On a smaller scale, it is virtually impossible to locate the Tourist Information Bureau at Positano or Capri - a ludicrous situation that automatically sets you on the wrong foot as you wrestle suitcases and coax tired children through packed alleyways.

Needless to say one is left with a slightly deflated feeling when these much lauded, and usually spectacular destinations, fail to ignite the excitement and sense of wonder that you anticipated. The solution? Well, aside from realising that there are probably many other travellers thinking the same thing (and cursing under their breath at the feral Australian family seated next to them), it is to get off the beaten path, and find the quintessential travel experiences that have not yet appeared in Fodor's or Lonely Planet.

Sounds like a worthwhile challenge ...

Posted by happellfamily12 14:30 Archived in Italy Tagged tourism Comments (0)

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