Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Lisbon - Amsterdam - Berlin

Pausing for a moment to think about the last few days certainly brings a smile to my face. Getting sunburnt in Lisbon, rained on in Amsterdam, and something perfectly in-between in Berlin. Our trip so far certainly has had variety, and we are only about six days into it.

Leaving Lisbon was a travel confidence booster for us. It had been entertaining to sleep each night with the sound of riff raff out on the street but when we found the metro was closed at the time of morning we were to fly out; I quickly became uncomfortable with the prospect of waiting outside at four in the morning. That night I hardly slept as I listened to the arguing and abuse on the street below. We could call a taxi, but the hotel owner, who didn't speak English, had told us previously (through hand gestures) that we should just wave one down.

4am arrives and we awake to silence. We pack our bags and head out into the night air. There is barely a soul to be seen other than a man at our bus stop dressed in tweed with his bag of groceries nestled safely next to him. Two young travellers, one in a naval hat, join us at the stop and all of a sudden we begin to feel safe, and who wouldn't with a tweed ninja and a navy officer for company?

The bus, although late, picked us up and took us to the airport. It even stops to pick up a pilot on the way. Now, I take a slight issue with a pilot taking the bus to work. I like to put pilots in a similar category to doctors, as people who dwell above the realms of us common people. I'd like to think after work, both doctors and pilots sit in sterilized rooms, reading every aviation/medical book in existence to add to their already flawless skill-sets. I don't like the idea of a pilot using public transport as much as I wouldn't like seeing my doctor throwing up in a gutter.

The flight to Amsterdam was event-free, and we trekked to our campsite just out of the city (on an island surrounded by highways). It rained as it normally does when you need to walk somewhere, each carrying two backpacks, but we arrived at Camp Zeeburg quite happy to dry off and roll into our wagonette for a couple of days. I'm glad we weren't in a tent as it was freezing especially compared to Lisbon. The wagonette must be built for summer though as it was bit cold in there. Apart from that, the campsite is really nice and has a great restaurant/bar, shower facilities and a ripoff washing machine. It certainly did us ok for a couple of nights while we were in Amsterdam.

Pip and I loved Amsterdam. We didn't go to the red light district, nor did we didn't smoke weed in a cafe. We did skip down the canals dodging bicycles, we did look into people windows and marvel at their fantastic décor, we did venture out to the windmills and walk the parks. But the weather was a bit of a dampener and it spoiled our trip out to the tulip fields, plus the big royal festival that weekend made the lines into the Rijksmuseum far too long to bother with.

I felt we got enough out of the city to look back fondly; however, I'd love to go back to finish it off. With only one full day, I think we did ok.

We are now in Berlin, and the sun has just set on our second night. I do like this city more than I thought I would. I will reveal more once we have finished up here and are on our way to Prague.

Parque Eduardo VII

The flight to Amsterdam

Our accommodation in Amsterdam

Waterfront houses near the windmills

Waiting for the U-Bahn in Berlin

Memorial to murdered Jews of Europe

Brandenburg Gate

Where the wall once stood

At the East Side Gallery 

At the Memorial of the Berlin Wall

Currywurst is amazing

View from our hotel room

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Goodbye Manchester, Hello Lisbon

Our tip is officially underway. We are about to settle into our second night at the Residencial Roxi which sits just out of the busy tourist area. Two nights ago we were sat at a Premier inn near Manchester airport, Now we feel a world away.

It's a strange feeling, knowing that we will possibly never be in England again, at least not to live and work but we leave with fond memories. Just before we left we collected one final memory, after watching a documentary about the Smiths. It turned out that the Salford Lads club where they famously held 'The Queen is dead' album shoot was just down the road from our house. It was the morning of our check out when Pip and I rose at 6am and walked down to take a few photos (It also happens to be at the end of a street called Coronation Street).

Our flight to Lisbon from Manchester was nice. There was only a scattering of people on the TAP flight but these people included four individuals who were police escorted on board prior to the rest of us. Were they convicts? I'm not sure, but they sat behind us down the back of the plane. I don't like to jump to conclusions, but it was slightly uncomfortable as we had no idea why they needed a police escort.

The flight descended over sunbaked Lisbon and did a sweep of the city before landing. It was amazing to look down at the city from above, with the terracotta roofs in full colour. Grabbing our bags and jumping on the metro we couldn't help, but notice how clean everything was. The Lisbon Metro is very well maintained and made London's look like a bit of a patch-up job.

Pip and I absolutely love Lisbon. It may be a little rough around the edges, but the place is undeniably beautiful. From every spot, you could take a postcard photo. The tourist areas are great, and I am assuming that they weren't crowded because it's not quite summer yet. For us 22 degrees with no clouds is perfect, add to that some room to move without bumping cameras with the person next to you and you have a very nice place to visit. Yes Lisbon is full of tourists, but the city doesn't seem to let that get in the way of the culture. All you have to do is walk a few blocks out, and you get streets with a few coats of varnish missing, yet those streets are just as amazing to walk down.

For once, I didn't bring my data connected phone to tell us where to go so Pip and I just walked around for hours when we arrived. When we retraced our steps on Google Maps later on, we'd actually seen most of the major landmarks. It's made me rethink my approach as I loved walking around without my eyes glued to my phone spitting out facts and directions. We just walked and asked each other "Left or right."

This photo was accidental.

On our second day we left the hotel with a vague plan of heading out to Belem, area where the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, Torre de Belém, and various museums were. After enjoying a coffee and custard tart and having spent the morning visiting various grocers and food markets to build a picnic, we jumped on a train and headed out. We spent hours wandering the shoreline, walking through gardens and soaking up some sun. I would love to head further out, but we are on a serious shoestring budget and so our days treat was dinner.

Before we left Manchester, my workmate Mario wrote me a list. Mario grew up in Lisbon and so had lots of advice for us. Good food can be hard to find as there are soo many places about, and it is hard to pick the nice ones. The first nights Bacalhau a braz (Cod in fried potato's and scrambled eggs) was good enough but not great. The second night we nailed it, sort of. After an hour of walking through some rather dodgy areas of the city we ended up back in the tourist block and after turning down a gauntlet of waiters trying to get us to eat with them, we settled on place where we had the most delicious Paella. It was soo good that the American tourists behind us took a sneaky photo of it (That's right I saw you).

Now settled into our hotel where you can see the person in the shower from the bed, is in a dodgy neighborhood, and the owners don't speak English. We are looking forward to our final day before heading out to Amsterdam.

P.S. The hotel is actually very good for it's price. It's just a bit quirky.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Job done

Today was finally the day when I got to finish my shift at work, safe in the knowledge that I do not have to go back. But, how do I feel about it?


Well not as much as I thought I would. It feels like such a long time coming and we've been planning our dream travel adventure for a few months now. Any sadness I might have felt has been eclipsed by the joy of what's to come.


I am a nostalgic person by nature. I tend to create feelings out of nothing sometimes, and I have a very strong prescription for my rose tinted glasses. Nostalgia should have been a constant throughout my last day, but I found myself constantly looking at the time, wiling it on to the point of frustration.


Proud could be described by a few occurrences over my last few days at work. As much as the past couple of months have ground me down and put increasing pressure on my natural niceness, it was lovely to receive so many well wishes from our regular costumers, including a goodbye card from an old couple who even drew a pencil sketch of a Caffe Nero cup with two spoons in it (They used to share a drink each time they came in).


I've been here before, overjoyed at my now-ceased employment only to find that it becomes even more frustrating to find the next job. This time is different as we will be moving back home, but I still wander what will be in store for us back in New Zealand.


I'm going to go with this last one. I made some great friends at Nero, but the job became a bit much for me over time. I am very happy that Pip and I moved to Manchester, and I know we'll look back fondly at our time here. Pip came to meet me after work when I said all of my goodbyes and we rode home together on the bus. Manchester put on a beautiful sunset which had all of the buildings, canals, and parks showing in their best light. It's as though Manchester and Salford had fixed up in their best outfits to wave goodbye.

One more weekend to go before we embark on one month of travel.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Pizza Margherita

Pizza may not seem like a travel related topic at first but Pip and I are pizza lovers and have started making our own from scratch.

It all started with baking our own bread from raw ingredients back in New Zealand. Upon returning from Italy in 2012, we'd tasted a range of different pizzas from some local Pizzerias and decided to give it a try from start to finish.

Growing up with Dominoes and Pizza Hut, I was used to thick based pizzas packed within an inch of their lives with toppings. Italy taught me that simple but strong flavours make the best pizzas and I tend to agree.

They don't come much simpler than a Margherita. Pizza dough, chopped tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, basil leaves and a drizzle of olive oil. We made one this evening and it tasted amazing. I cannot wait to have our own house one day because I plan on building an outdoor pizza oven.

We decided to take some photos of the process today, just for fun.

The dough, ready to rise.

Pip kneads the dough,

Pip rolls the dough into a pizza base.

Adding the final touches to the Margherita.

The final product, moments before it was devoured.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Manchester Art Gallery

Testicle removal, glitter, woman's suffrage, crayfish attacking birds; Perhaps not what immediately springs to mind when one considers visiting an art gallery built in 1824, but these were just some of the pieces on display when Pip and I visited the Manchester Art Gallery.

I'd heard that Manchester's art gallery was fantastic but I wasn't sure if fantastic was a scaled down description in order to keep expectations to an exceed-able level. I am not an 'art for arts sake' kind of guy and I won't pretend to enjoy or understand something if I do not.

Luckily for Pip and I, the Manchester Art Gallery exceeded all expectations. The galleries are very well laid out, as you sweep through the rooms which showcase different eras of paintings with a scattering of sculptures, photography and artefacts. Raqib Shaw had an exhibition on and while the 'exhibition gallery' held most of his work, they had done a fantastic job letting it spill through the rest of the gallery without being intrusive. Vines weaved and flowered throughout the entrance, and a few self-harming mini sculptures perched unsettlingly, staring down from various vantage points across the main hall. Shaw's work was also present in some of the older galleries with his dark and grotesque versions of a few mainstay paintings hanging menacingly across from their inspired originals.

Aside from Shaw, the collection of incredible art from throughout the ages was very impressive. Pip and I have been to the European masters exhibition when it visited New Zealand, which contained works from all the big name artists, plus we've visited a few other famous galleries through Europe. While we certainly are not art experts, this gallery in our opinion stands up on it's own against any London, French or touring German offering.

I must also mention how well art from the local Manchester/Salford area was incorporated throughout the gallery. Never out of place, these pieces from L.S Lowry and various other local artists gave the gallery a grounding to it's location and demonstrated how deserving of this building Manchester is.

It's place in history was also evident outside of just the art with reminders next to various pieces that in April 1913, three ordinary Edwardian woman turned vigilante, surprised the guards at the Manchester Art Gallery and smashed a few of the frames throughout the building. This is just another layer to a rather brilliant cultural experience in Manchester.

The entrance hall housed a scattering of these little creatures.

This is my pick of the gallery. 'The Chariot Race' About 1882.

Pip with some Lowry's.

'Claude Duval' painted in 1859. This painting reminded me of a scene from 'A tale of two cities'.

I took this photo through one of the gallery windows. I love how the dirty window
gives the shot an almost 'painted' look.

An old painting of Albert Square in Manchester. I absolutely love this one.

In the Raqib Shaw gallery.

More Riqib Shaw.