Italy in the summertime is about as close to a picture perfect holiday as you can get. Beautiful people, ancient ruins, tasty gelato and beaches of bronzed bodies, all of them talking with big hand gestures and oozing European cool. Wine, antipasto and long lazy evenings are the order of the day.
Life is always this fantastic in Italy – breadsticks, wine and beautiful people
As a last-minute birthday surprise in August, we headed to the Venezia region with two close friends, planning to indulge in some wine tasting, stroll the Piazzas of Venice and live the bella vita – what could be easier?
Ready to conquer Italian living
Turns out, everything. Everything could have been easier. We chose one of the wettest summers on record (according to our chatty cab driver) to visit. We ended up driving laps of the highway entrance to Venice. We lost €100 buying a single slice of Pizza.We got stuck in traffic trying to find Jesolo. We spent 1.5 hours on a local bus because we left it too late to get the direct connection to our hotel. We managed to visit Venice on possibly the greyest day I’ve ever seen there.
And every disastrous minute of it was wonderful.
They say travelling is a true test of a relationship, whether that be with your partner or your friends. I’ve seen some pretty epic bust-ups over my years of working in travel, especially when people are tired, hungry, confused and frustrated. All 4 of us were at one point suffering from a combination of those emotions, but managed to make it back to Vienna having not killed each other, which was a minor miracle.
The weekend started well:
Roadtrip selfies! Whoo!
The itinerary was Vienna – Padua – Venice. Padua was the exciting part for me, mostly because I’d never been, plus it appealed to my inner Shakespeare nerd (The Taming of the Shrew was set in Padua, I guess I was hoping for a theatrical bout of witty banter in the city square?). The icing on my nerdy cake was that Padua boasts the second largest city square in Europe and who can resist an architectural wonder? Not I. The square was so big in fact that I couldn’t fit it all in one photo:
Padova was classically Italian and beautiful. We even managed to find a favourite restaurant and time our visit with their epic fireworks display for the Festa di Ferragosta*. Although we got a bit lost at some points, we spent most of the afternoon discovering picturesque squares, attempting to speak Italian, taking the occasional ridiculous selfies and eating. Oh the eating.
This particular monstrosity could only exist in Italy as a legitimate dessert option
Day two was Venice discovery day and depending on your point of view, it was either an unmitigated disaster or an hilarious shambolic success. Despite losing €100, getting caught in the rain, killing my knees wearing stupid shoes and being frustrated by the fact that a group of 4 people on holiday take at least 15 minutes to make any kind of decision, I had a fantastic time.
Note ridiculous shoes, grey skies, the smudge of rain on camera lens…and us, blatantly ignoring it all.
I’d been to Venice so often as a tour guide that it was a delightful change to relax, go to the outlying islands and switch off my brain to meander like a tourist for once. Oh, and did I mention the wine and eating?
By Sunday we were ready to go home, having gorged ourselves on Italian life – I’m pretty sure my metabolism is not built for endless plates of pasta, bottomless wine glasses and prosciutto by the boatload. S had one last birthday surprise in store for me though. He talked us into a slight detour, which seemed like a disastrous decision when we were crawling through the Italian countryside, stuck behind campervans, geriatric Austrians and cars full of Italian families. The payoff was worth it though. After a 2.5 hour detour we arrived here:
That my friends is a beach. An honest to god, sand in my toes, 35 degrees in the sunshine, salty ocean water beach. My Australian heart leapt at the site – it had been a long, long time between beach visits and it’s the one thing that Austria can’t offer me. Family can visit, friends can Skype but Austria just doesn’t have the long sandy salt-water beaches of Australia. Except for this particular Sunday – we found Jesolo beach in Italy. On this Sunday, with my close friends, it was just about damn perfect.
*History nerd note: This festival allegedly began with Emperor Augusta from Roman times encouraging people to celebrate a ‘lazy summer break’ in reward for the hard work of harvesting agriculture. BONUS FACT in the Fascist era it was a 2 to 3 day holiday break where lower social classes could cheaply get access to the Italian mountains or seaside through Government organised trips. Nerd fact win!
Travelling to Bali was always going to be interesting. From the very beginning my Australian understanding of Bali and the Germanic/Austrian version were completely unrelated. Bali always seemed to me like an awful cross between hippie ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ retreat and bogan party central. In Bali’s defense, I had years of being a travel agent in Melbourne to cultivate this blatantly unfair prejudice.
Julia has a lot to answer for….but can you blame her?
S on the other hand, was getting his version of Bali from German blogs, guidebooks and online forums. He assured me that Bali was a cultural paradise, filled with idyllic islands and delicious culinary delights. Although every blog told him to avoid Kuta beach and all the Australians there….bit too late for that now…
Can you spot the Austrian surrounded by Aussies?? He didn’t stand a chance!
Thankfully for both of us, Bali turned out to be paradise, we just had to know where to look….but more tips on where to stay in a later post.
On top of this divided understanding of Bali, it became clear that our individual ideas of what a ‘dream holiday’ entails were er, pretty different. Some may say extremely different! Austrians, as I’ve mentioned before, are super into exercise, fitness, movement and activity. They love a good walk. They love a good hike even more. A good long walk toward a mountain on which they can hike is pretty much heaven. Point being – this is an active culture.
S reliably informed me that at an Austrian holiday resort you’d find no end of beach volleyball courts, tennis courts, swimming pools for doing laps and of course, every Austrian would be up for 8am breakfast to make the most of their wonderfully healthy day. In my every day life I absolutely adore this attitude, it keeps everyone active into old age, but while on vacation??!!
My version of a holiday is the chance to sleep in to a leisurely hour, enjoy a long breakfast then relax on a sun-lounger with a good book, trying to tan without getting completely sunburnt. This seemed pretty in-line with what many other Aussies had planned for their stay at Legian beach, with the added benefit of drinks being delivered to your sun-lounger at super cheap Balinese prices.
My family, flat out on holiday
My perfect holiday view – note the nearby pool and sun lounger in shot
So, how do you take an Austrian abroad when we have these wildly opposing views on what a holiday should be? Our survival tactic was to mix an even balance of activities & island exploring with the required amount of sunbathing and book reading. So we did manage to venture out a little from the sunbed;
We snorkeled – the incredible fish & coral reef are sadly not in shot…
…we explored lookout points and rocky outcrops…
…and we got to ride this badass scooter all around Nusa Lembongan like locals!
I think on balance my relaxing idea of a holiday perfectly suited the quiet island of Nusa Lembongan. Unfortunately for my Austrian mister, the places we stayed just didn’t have any facilities to play sports, or hike, or generally be extremely fit while on holiday. The takeaway lesson was that an Austrian abroad needs some pre-arranged activities, no matter how ridiculous that may seem to an Aussie. To really drive this point home, when we landed back at Vienna Airport, it was full of Austrian families heading for their Spanish resort holidays – and they were literally playing volleyball in the airport halls. Dedicated to fitness?? Damn right they are!
We’ve been on a getaway. A blissful, island runaway trip – probably the longest holiday I’ve had in about 6 years. (No, tour guiding through Europe is not the holiday it appears to be from the outside!). I was on a self imposed internet ban for the majority of the trip, but now i’m back with a vengeance and just had to share a few photos to give you an idea of what a paradise Bali can be.
Fact: you cannot take a bad photo with sunsets like this.
There’s a good few posts to come for you, in particular a mention of how differently an Austrian approaches a holiday compared to an Australian (hint: VERY DIFFERENTLY!). To tide things over though here’s a brief photo collection for the start of the week – enjoy!
That’s moi, successfully Paddleboarding, whoo! S decided he ‘doesn’t like one board sports’ after a morning of failed attempts to stay standing
Rice paddy fields gear in action
Mt Batur from the lookout restaurant
Not quite nailing the self-timed photo…but you get the idea!
We don’t do snowy winters in Melbourne. Its more like, windy, grey and maybe a low of 7 degrees celsius. Nothing so serious as a snowy Austrian winter. Although Vienna has been remarkably warm this year, its still a lot bloody colder than Australia. So, when my family came across for their first Austrian winter, I offered them the following survival tips:
1. Invest in a decent jacket
Critical decision at the start of winter – what will be your jacket of choice through these long, dark, icy months? My heart always wants to get something fashionable but my thin cold skin needs the most effective gear in the business. Last year S got me an unbeatable Dynafit jacket and I haven’t been cold since. Seriously I can ski in this thing, walk to work, wear only a t-shirt underneath and it still keeps me warm. I love it – but its not exactly high fashion. My family took the same approach – warmth was #1 priority over look!
I’m so cosy, I can frolic at the Gloriette!
2. Shoes will save you
A decent pair of warm boots will make or break your winter. You spend so much time trudging through slush, trying not to slip on ice or simply standing outside in the cold when you’re drinking Glüwein at the Christmas Markets, that a decent pair of shoes is essential. Ideally a warm, comfy, fur lined pair of knee-high boots will do the trick. Otherwise you’ll be wearing thick socks a lot, paired with soggy runners and probably be in a really really bad mood the whole winter!
3. Protect yourself
In the snow you need to protect your skin from the sun on those beautiful clear days. Sounds unlikely but trust me on this – sunburn from snow can be a surprise horror as the reflected glare from the white snowy ground hits your unprotected skin as much as the rays from above. Save yourself from the panda-eyes effect by using sunscreen on those gorgeous blue bird days.
4. Accessorize darling…
In Australia I thought winter was all about wearing lots of cozy layers and big thick jumpers and coats. Here, I’ve learnt that its the little things that make a huuuuge difference. Winter accessories are a must – you 100% cannot leave the house without a scarf, hat and gloves or you will freeze. The icy winter wind will sneak down your neck, your fingertips may turn purple and without a hat you can forget about ever feeling your earlobes again. The most shocking thing I saw over our Christmas break was an Irish lad skiing without gloves….I don’t know how his hands survived. Accessorize every day!
Mum and Dad luvin’ their hat investments…
5. Use the right products
S managed to terrify my mum into thinking her lips were going to freeze and fall off completely when he shared this particular tip, but it is an important one. In winter you need to use different moisturizers and lip balms than you would in summer. A lot of beauty products have water based ingredients, so if you use them in winter weather you will only dry out your skin/lips, causing more pain than you had in the first place. Apothekes here in Austria sell winter lip balm for about €4 so treat yourself to the right products. I promise your lips won’t fall off!
6. Get into the Spirit
Winter can be cold, grey and wet. Or, if you have the right attitude it can also be beautifully white, magical and the perfect time to develop new skills. This is my third winter in Austria and there’s at least 3 new skills I’ve developed in that time. My skiing has improved massively – only possible in winter. I’ve gained an excellent ability for choosing delicious Glüwein – only possible in winter. I’ve ice-skated outside a hilltop palace – only possible winter.
Ice-skating very carefully at Schloss Wilhemenberg
Overall a cold winter is what you make it – so embrace the many wonderful opportunities winter brings and enjoy it- no one ever had fun spending 3 months inside whining!
What’s your best survival tip for winter? I’m sure I’ve missed a few crucial ones so let me know your strategies in the comments.
Its not how it sounds, really, I swear! Ladies and Gents, its been a blissful, busy, bright and brilliant three weeks off. I got my itchy feet out of Vienna and returned to an old love – the Road. That enticing mistress of adventure, uncertainty and joy that I thrive on.
Officially I gave up my Topdeck job last year, after two incredible seasons – moving on to my new life in Vienna and consequently a new, grown-up, real life job. Topdeck was my employment-ex. The much beloved, always wistfully mentioned, ‘dream job’. So when the email came through three months ago, asking if I wanted to do just one cheeky trip…well what’s a restless girl to do?? Topdeck & Trip Leading have been the ‘what if’ spectre hanging about in the back of my brain and secret chamber of my heart for months and I had to find a way to get it out of my system. Not only for my own sanity, but to really and truly start my life here in Vienna, I needed to shake the feeling that I was ‘missing out’. Essentially banish my FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out, for those who don’t speak the slang of Youths these days!).
A short and sharp 11 day trip was the answer – not so long as to cut into my annual leave, and just long enough to hit all the high points of a good solid lap around Europe. The itinerary? Paris – Lauterbrunnen-Venice-Munich-Rhine Valley-Amsterdam. Two nights everywhere except Munich and Rhine Valley where we had one night each. Stunning.
A small visual guide to what I got up to in my spare time. As in, when not managing 46 mostly drunk/hungover hilarious and fun loving passengers that had a fairly tight itinerary to see 9 countries in 11 days!!
Paris – I hired a bike and rode around the sights, stopping in at Shakespeare and Co. Bookshop for a few treats – hipster bliss!
View over the Trocadero Gardens and some old, iconic structure
This is the Eglise Dom where Napoleon is buried, he’s a subtle kinda guy.
Switzerland. Got my inner Austrian on for a hike up the Grunnenwald, I must be integrating better than I thought because I actually enjoyed this kind of excercise!
Up close with some local cows, not as friendly as expected
View of Jungfraujoch Mountain from little Cafe Hut
Italy – Skipped the hot, sweaty crowds wandering the sunny streets of Venice and caught up with some old friends beside the pool. Heaven.
The coolest place to be in Venice – on water. View is from Accademia Bridge
Munich – Beers in Hofbraühaus. Apparently we were having an excellent time ‘cos I have no photographic evidence of this!!
Rhine Valley – managed to take the optional River Cruise down the Rhine River, sipping beers in the sun with some of my favourite passengers. Incredible countryside!
Oh, this was the view from our Hostel room in St Goar, which was, ahem, a Castle.
Amsterdam – Got into the facepainting spirit and night then enjoyed my free day bike riding, visting the newly opened Rijksmuseum to see Rembrandts Night Watch AND got some gifts in the Heinekin Museum. Winner!
National monument – Dam square, Amsters
Brugges – always the final day slog, but this time around, we were on time, relaxed and oh so happy to have such a wonderful last day together.
Final city stop, treated myself to a lunch in the main square. Job well done.
The result? A perfect trip. I honestly could not have asked for a better group, easier itinerary, nicer driver or happier experience. It was the universe gifting me one last hurrah. What I came to realise though, was that as great as the job is – I’ve moved beyond that lifestyle. The thing I love most about it is sharing the excitement of travel with young people who are equally interested and keen to learn more, see more and enjoy everything about their journey. That includes the partying nightlife alongside the historical stories and architectural marvels. I love getting people excited about travelling, sharing their experience the first time they see the Eiffel Tower, or taste Italian Gelato, or try and lift an authentic Stein. Its other traveller’s enthusiasm and joy that I love, above and beyond the job itself. Which means, I’m finally ok with leaving that Job and that life behind.
I have one delightful group of people to thank for this…these guys:
Adorable group shot in the Netherlands
That madcap bunch of people made my trip unforgettable. I am so greatful to have such enthusiastic, excited passengers who were up for any-and-everything! Calling any one trip a favourite is impossible, because each and every single one is special, but this will, I think, be memorable as the final fun one!
Like any good relationship, Topdeck made me grow as a person, figure out who I really am and what I really want. It challenged me, made me happier than I’ve ever been and more exhausted than I ever could have imagined. It was at once uplifting, traumatic and hugely satisfying -sometimes all in one day. To anyone even considering a change of lifestyle or career I can only say DO IT if you have the strength. Its not easy, and its not always fun, but it will change you for the better. It taught me to be selfless, to savour the small moments you get for yourself, to be more helpful, to be thankful everyday for every opportunity. It will always be the most significant ex for me, because it changed my life so completely. I left Australia with a one way ticket, on the hope of getting a job – I really had no idea of what I was in for. Three seasons later, I’m living in Austria with the love of my life, I’ve experienced the best Europe has to offer – counting Rome, Florence, Berlin and Paris as my office – and made friends with the most incredible people along the way. Lucky? No, I worked damn hard for it. Grateful?Hell yes, and always will be.
For now though, I can say (with 98.99% certianty)that my Trip Leading days are done. I’m putting down my roots here in Wien, starting new challenges, and finding a new way to share my love of travel – online here with you guys, and soon, out in the real world with a new venture that’s shaping up to be pretty exciting! Mostly though, this is for myself and S, to banish all talk of ex-loves and truly begin our new life here, together.
The new beginning…
It was mini-adventure time this weekend, so despite the weather being less than summery, we set out on a daytrip to explore the Wachau. What is Wachau I hear you cry? Well for starters, its this….
Only a big glorious beautiful area about an hour’s drive out of busy Vienna, completely hidden a little further down the Danube from the more famous Melk Abbey & Krems. I was gobsmacked. I know Austria is beautiful, but the countryside keeps hitting me in the face with just how stunning it is, right when I start taking it for granted…
Countryside in background, badly done selfie in foreground
We had a pretty little drive to get out there, through lots of cute little villages, even saw a few weddings en route – but the effects of recent flooding were still evident along the sides of the road. The spot where we took the photo above would have been completely unerwater a few weeks ago. So to revive local tourism, S had a surprise in store for me, in the form of a Giant Castle!! I love castles! On top of A Mountain! Beside the Danube! Glorious!
Lost the pointy bit on top, but you get the idea, no? CASTLE!!
Aggstein Castle is a big, reconstructed Fortress that was first built in 1350. Most of the roof has gone but a whole heap of the original rooms and castle walls remain. Its been really well restored and you can roam about freely to get a good feel of the place as it would have been in its heyday. Battlements, wells, cellar’s and original kitchen elements are all still there.
Huge stretch of castle to frolic in!
And if geeking out over historic details isn’t your thing, then the views alone are worth it!
Note adventuring Austrian’s paragliding in background
Peeking through a lookout point
We spent a good two hours here, wandering about, enjoying the views, pretending to be from Medieval times and, of course, snacking. Austrian style snacking which is…large:
Blurred photo and half demolished plate due to marauding hungry Austrian & Australian
The cafe restaurant is very traditional style Austrian, super homely and lots of wood. Because the weather was a bit scheisse we headed for a table indoors, where they had dellightful bay window seats and kitschy posters.
The manager/waitress revealed the upstairs area had been a hostel in the ’70’s. Can you imagine staying here as a backpacker for about ten bucks a night??!! Luxury!! I was tempted to request an overnight but S is yet to stay in a hostel (travel princess much??) so I thought this was maybe not the best induction one could ask for.
After conquering the castle our next mission was to cross to the other side of the Danube to the adorable village of Spitz. This proved harder than expected as the regular ferry was non operational after flooding. We had to loop around a bit but this took us past a few different kinds of street vendors selling fresh peaches, cherries and natürlich, schnapps. I got to taste my first Steckerlfish, which was, hand on heart as a seafood lover, one of the freshest, tastiest best spiced fish I’ve had:
Taste’s better than it looks, I swear!!
We rounded out the day at a local Heuringer, which is like a winery but on a smaller scale, where you sit in someone’s home. Basically, for different periods of the wine season, local winemaker’s open up their backyards or courtyards as a place to drink and eat while tasting their produce. They only have a licence to selll their wine, no beer, spirits etc, and only cold food. Which, as you may have gathered by now is more than sufficient when Austrian Granny’s are making the snack plates!! We went to one owned by a friend’s family, and it felt like we were in Italian Wine country – stunning views, sunset, delicious cheap wine, and good chats with the locals
I can never go back to Australian prices for wine….
Spitz Kirche from Heuringer terrace
After whiling away 3 hours ‘tasting’ the beautiful wine the weather came in on us, but it had definitely been well worth braving it all day!
For those who want a visual on where we were, try this handy dandy map:
If that doesn’t help you, stay tuned, because I think we’ll be headed back here soon, hopefully with friends in tow!!