A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: stomich

Cold to Colder

Goodbye frosty Europe, Hello frickin freezing Canada!

We said goodbye to Mum at Amsterdam airport boarded our plane to Canada! I was ready for the cold but nothing could have really prepared me for it. In words said more than once it was "f***ing freezing" or as the french say "Il fait frette"!

Anyway we were greeted by our friend and host Vanessa!

She took us up to her place in Sainte Adele which was about an hour north of Montreal. We had a great catch up and compared travelling stories over some wine. We met Vanessa in Nepal in 2015 and spend a total of five days with her paddling down a river. It's crazy how life works, we never thought we would be sitting in her lounge 2 years on. We were also pretty pleased her English was far superior to our French otherwise it would have been a quiet week!

The next day we tried a new sport and strapped on some snow shoes to tackle Quebec's biggest mountain. I was a bit nervous, until i realised that mountain in Quebec is more of a hill ;) Mt Tremblant was smaller that Mt Te Aroha. Not that it was an easy day, snow shoes take a bit of getting used to and it was a fresh -18 °C outside.
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The scenery was great, there was so much snow decorating the trees. From the top we had 360° views of the arear which was pretty cool, although we didn't enjoy it for too long as the wind was turning that -18 °C into a -40 °C.

That evening we met some of Vanessa's friends Sebastian and Ben and shared an evening of laughs and Chinese Fondue (which is the greatest thing!)

The following day on the way in to Montreal we went to Omega Park, which is a Canadian animal park. It was pretty much like a safari. So much fun, we had all the animals coming to the car and eating our carrots, we saw deer, elk, caribou, moose, ibex, bisson, wolves, fox, turkeys and pigs. The bears were hibernating (will have to go back).
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It was really funny. One ibex even tried to enter the car through the window!

That evening we met up with some more of Vanessa friends and went to a pub which played traditional Quebecois music, I even got forced onto the stage and danced to a song I learnt the night before! Such a fun night!
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We then ventured to Quebec City with Natasha (Vanessa's sister) and Jeremy.
Quebec was colder and deeper in snow than Montreal (a feat I thought to be impossible), but we had a blast!

We got involved in the Quebec festival which had us throwing axes, riding a mechanical moose (which looked like a hippo), visiting an ice castle, dancing to lots of music and a fantastic parade.
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We went dog sledding which was a load of fun. The huskies were awesome, the place had about 180 in total and there were 6 pulling our sled. We  learnt a lot about the dogs and how they work and train them. Our huskies were the kind that were mostly used for pulling loads and aren't all that fast, but we also saw the kind that pull sleds for racing and reach speeds of 50km/hr!
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We ate at a Sugar Shack, where they make maple syrup (oh god I love that stuff), put on an ongoing meal (where the food keeps coming and maple syrup was poured over everything!) and provided entertainment in the form of a traditional band.
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We had a blast tubing at Quebec's biggest tubing park, and we did it in style by trying out the retro gear we have collected for the Big White Wedding. Tubing was so much fun and we had an exciting day... Jeremy got a bit excited at one point and swung his tube around and knocked over a small child! Oops, lucky the kid was a tough nut and just walked it off!
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Here we also visited the ice hotel which was pretty cool too.

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In the evenings we sampled the local brews and particularly enjoyed the maple cream (similar to baileys) and the maple whiskey.

A really great dish we tried was the Poutine (chips with gravy and cheese). I could eat that stuff all day! We also had the yummy maple onion rings (Quebec wasn't great on the waistline!)
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On our last day we headed back to Montreal, stopping at a waterfall on the way, which was partly frozen over and which people were climbing on the side.
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We headed back to Vanessa's parents place which was closer to Montreal and had a lovely evening with them celebrating Lucie's birthday and indulging in cheese fondue which was also very yummy (but once again not great on the old jean size!)
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A MASSIVE thank you to our fabulous friend Vanessa who went above and beyond to ensure we had a great stay in Quebec. We had the most amazing week and are so happy to forever have those memories with her! Merci beaucoup Vanessa!

Posted by stomich 11:18 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Austria

We were relieved to leave the frosty Budapest, and venture to the capital of Austria where it was only -2 °C. Such warmth!
We arrived in Vienna to snow. After dropping off our bags, we went for a traditional meal at a pub down the road. Weiner schnitzel!
With Austria being the home of performing arts we checked out the State Opera House and jumped in line to get a ticket to that nights show which started in a couple of hours! All the fancy seats (like on Pretty Woman) were sold out so we only had a standing option which was a steal at €3 or €4. Being the high rollers that we are, we opted for the €4 tickets and went on in.
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The inside was far more glamorous than the outside, and in our hiking boots and ski jackets we stuck out like dogs balls. But anyway, they happily robbed us at €7 for water. The show was actually a ballet which was cool. They had a full blown orchestra and a big cast. We estimated probably 50 people performing in total. Luckily Tim could keep up, cause at the first interval I had no idea what was going on. I must say, that while I admire the talent and dedication of the ballerinas, I probably won't be rushing back. But in all we both (yes even Tim) thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

The rest of our time in Vienna was spent exploring the city and learning a bit of history. Found the Art institute which declined the application of Adolf Hitler twice in his youth. To quote the local we were with "I think the world could have coped with one more shit artist". Anyway not much we can do about that now. We saw the palaces and walked the beautiful grounds. Had coffee and apple strudel (pretty much locals), met up with Klem who we had spent new years with, had a stein and visited an Irish pub (naturally).
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From Vienna we took a (very scenic) train to the stunning town of Hallstatt.
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Set at the base of the mountains and right on the lake this has to be the most picture perfect place we have visited! The houses looked like they had been iced, if I were Hansel or Gretel I probably would have tried eating them! We stayed a very peaceful (and pricey) two nights here and it was like being on holiday, the snow made it so quiet.
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My snowman!!!

My snowman!!!

Regretfully, our budget forced us to move on from Hallstatt and we headed for the living hills of Salzburg. We really enjoyed it here, the compact town was beautiful and scattered with images of the Sound of Music. Of course we rewatched the film and went in search of the sites! It was a bit chilly for a picnic in the mountains but we sang and danced over the bridges (well Tim did).
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On recommendation we visited the Augustine brewery and beer halls and had a stein. Such a cool place which was obviously very popular with the locals.

Our next stop was Innsbruck but only for a couple of hours of which it snowed the entire time.
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We actually stayed up in the mountains about 20km away in a wee town called Fulpmes.
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This town was at the bottom of the ski resort called Schlick2000. With a name like that, it was sure to be fantastic. So we hired gear and got a day pass. With a base ski level of very average and a break of over 2 years, naturally I was bloody fantastic and totally up for when Tim took me 'off piste'. It went ok at the start, and I enjoyed watching my skis disappear under the fresh snow, but i did come out at the bottom (a considerable amount of time after Tim) covered in snow.
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Anyway, I actually had a fab day and even got some mean air in my first jump! Yee haaaaa. Look out Canada I'm going to be carving those slopes like a boss!
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All in all a great time in Austria, up to Germany now where we have picked up a stray!

Posted by stomich 12:19 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

The silly season

So to Helsinki we went for (what we thought would be) a guaranteed white christmas!! Exciting!
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We arrived on the 23rd and were quickly advised to stock up on food and drinks as evrything would be shut on 24th/25th. No problem, it's lovely to be cozied up indoors when it's snowing outside.

We wandered into the town and found more fantastic fairy lights and busy streets...we began to wonder when the snow would come down (christmas is only 2 sleeps away!!)
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We slept in on Christmas eve. This is the big day in Finland, it's the day when families all get together, they have the big meal and open presents. Hence, everything is quiet and shut down. We opened the curtains quietly hoping that there would be a blanket of snow over the ground, we would go for a lovely stroll and throw snowballs. We got this ...
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Rain, rain and more rain.
So we figured there was only one thing for it!
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Bubbles, cheese & crackers and sauna (no pictures allowed).

Saunas in Finland are very similar to in Sweden, but in Finland you hit yourself with tree branches as well (not really sure why).

Christmas day was much the same to be honest, we opened our presents (didn't take long), went for a stroll to the beach had a very tradition meal of chicken burritos and popped back to the sauna!

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All in all, it was very relaxing!

The next couple of days we wandered around the city and kinda didn't do alot! Helsinki is a neat city, with lovely buildings and we enjoyed the atmosphere of christmas there.

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We caught the overnight ferry down to Tallinn, Estonia. It was aprox 30mins before we departed that it started to snow in Helsinki!! Unbelieveable! The ferry was interesting because we got on (it was kind of a cruise ship) at about 6pm and we had arrived in Tallinn by about 10pm but we had to stay on the boat till 9am. We guessed it was a money making scheme because the ship was kitted out with nightclubs, shopping, bars and restaurants.

We checked into a hotel (oh la laa - thanks Kevin and Jackie!!) in Tallinn and went for a walk into the old town. We were immediately struck by the beauty of the buildings and the cleanliness of the city. Estonia has a very interesting history as a country who has been constantly under foreign rule. It is now a country who believes more in witchcraft than any religion, but they still celebrate Christmas, in fact they were the first country in the world to put up a christmas tree.

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We had a great time wandering the streets, checking out the christmas markets, eating meat with our hands, drinking vana tallinn (a yummy liqueur), exploring the old city walls, looking at the beautiful buildings and wandering some more. We met up with the lovely Amy and Klem on the 30th and did more of the above with them. As well as escaping from an escape room!

New years eve was spent at an Irish bar (we are all about traditional), before heading out to the town square to join the local action!

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Happy 2017 everyone. Get excited because 2017 has snow!!!

Posted by stomich 06:20 Archived in Finland Comments (0)

Snygg Rumpa

Sweden

Sweden! Most certainly a country we have been looking forward to visiting! Having worked with a few Swedes a couple of years back I had heard that it was a great place. My language needed a litlle bit of a touch up though, as all I could remember was Snygg Rumpa, meaning nice ass*. This phrase actually turned out to be quite appropriate (or inappropriate depending on how you look at it).

So from Copenhagen we made the 7.8km journey to Malmö, Sweden. We took the train which used the Øresund Bridge, a really interesting roadway, which is a bridge turn tunnel! Part of the journey is underwater (by tunnel), which meets the surface on an island and becomes a bridge... or something like that - Tim did explain, but sometimes I just find I'm not that interested.

Anyway our 'Swedish experience' had us a couple of days in Malmö followed by a few more days in Stockholm, not very extensive but we got a feel for it.
Tim mentioned in our last blog that... "its definitely Christmas, and its definitely winter", well this still rings true in Sweden and let me tell you, its bloody cold and I bloody LOVE fairy lights!! You really get to appreciate them up here too as sun set is before 3pm!

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Christmas markets are just everywhere, and in my head they were much bigger, but they seem to be small and many. There are neat ice skating rinks everywhere too. We braved it once in Stockholm and were pretty impressed by some of the kids whizzing past us!

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We went and checked out some amazing ice skaters at a local ice hockey match on our last night. Such amazing skill, and WHAT THE PUK!... so aggressive!! That was a blast, and the home team lost to the team lower on the table which made for some great crowd watching!

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Scandinavia is known for its social bathing. Not wanting to miss out on anything we popped along to the big one in Malmö, which is pretty old and very popular (with locals).
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Men and women are separated at the entrance, and as I can't read Swedish I struggled a bit working out what to do and ended up asking someone, she explained that you had to get naked (*snygg rumpa), then wash off before getting into the saunas (there were three here, all different temperatures and types), anyway you get yourself nice and hot and then you head outside and get in the sea, making sure to dunk your head. I tell you what, in a place where I wont go outside until every inch of me is covered up, the thought of a nudey dunk in the sea sounded horrific, but it was actually quite refreshing after the intense heat (not that I hung around in there).
It was quite fun :)

Tim showed his inner child by taking me to a couple of museums. The first was the Malmö marine and technology museum (yay). We were the only adults there without any children (well I suppose I had Tim). Jokes aside it actually was quite interesting, it housed a wartime submarine along with many other early technological pieces, all interactive and all thoroughly tested by Tim.

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The next museum was the Vasa museum in Stockholm. A museum dedicated to one ship (the Vasa). Basically this ship was built in the early 1600's (looked like a pirate ship to me), she kitted out with 64 bronze cannons, it took 2 years to build. Its maiden voyage was August 10 1628, with cannons on show and guests on board she sailed out of the harbour, heeled over to the lower cannon deck, took on water and sunk after aprox. 1.3km! Oops. Anyways it lay at the bottom of the harbour for 333years and was preserved reasonably well, before being hauled up in the 60's.

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While I did enjoy both of these museums my favourite by a country mile was ABBA the museum! Such fun. Man they had some hits! *Agnetha was voted worlds sexiest ass - Snygg Rumpa ;)

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We enjoyed walking around the towns, the buildings were all very pretty and there were hundreds of sculptures. Very visually pleasing even if we couldn't afford to buy anything inside those buildings!

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Our last morning was spent tasting the tradional Swedish meatballs at Meatballs for the People, before jumping on an overnight ferry to Helsinki where we will be spending Christmas. Fingers crossed for snow!

Posted by stomich 08:05 Archived in Sweden Comments (0)

Ireland

We arrived in Ireland on a drizzly Monday and after smoothing out a couple of issues with the rental car we headed to Hugo's family 'hatbox' in Mayo. Here we spent a few days just chilling, catching up on our washing and going for wanders on the beaches.

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One of the days we walked up Croagh Patrick which is Ireland's holy mountain, and apparently where St Patrick took all the snakes and threw them off the top ridding the country of the slippery beasts (well thats how the story goes).

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Tim's awesome photography skills

Tim's awesome photography skills

After a few days Tim and I took the car up top the top of the country to see the Giants Causeway. We were lucky enough to visit on a quiet day (love travelling off season) and pretty much had the place to ourselves. We wandered over the rocks and discussed all the possible reasons why they formed (geologists that we are).

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From here we drove down to the town of Belfast - birthplace of the unsinkable Titanic! First stop was the Titanic museum which was awesome. We spent about 3 hours soaking up all the info (Tim was playing with all the interactive displays aimed at kids).

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Next morning I woke up not feeling so well, so Tim took us back to Mayo.

Next day we went to Dublin with Hugo and Esme and met up with Naomi and Dave where we went for an afternoon tour of the Guinness factory. An interesting process and history. Fun fact: Mr Guinness took a 9000 year lease for the factory.
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Next day Hugo and Esme left us and Naomi, Tim and Dave ventured out and around the town, I was still not feeling great so I stayed home. From here we hired a car and went up to Newgrange which is a really old neolithic tomb.
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They predict it was built in aprox. 3200BC making it older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids. The internal chamber of the tomb is in complete darkness all year except when lit up by the sunrise at the winter solstice.

Dave ventured back to the UK, and Naomi had returned home which left Tim and I to explore for a couple of days. I was still not feeling 100% so we basically just chilled and planned our next moves!

On Saturday we trained to the metropolis of Limerick where we were greeted by our fab host Naomi. She whisked us straight of to watch the pride of the town, the Munster rugby team take on Leicester. It was a great game - always love live rugby, and we were reminded once or twice about the game in 1978 when Munster beat the All Blacks - just in case we tried to forget.
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Since staying with Naomi and her family we have visited the cliffs of Moher (very cool), walked in the rain, watched christmas movies, visited Banratty Castle, done shopping, eaten some lovely meals and caught up on admin. So a successful few days all round!
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Today we popped up to Copenhagen where we will now remain in this cooler climate until our return to NZ in March!

Massive thanks to Hugo and his family, and Naomi and her family for taking in a couple of strays this month! We really appreciate it!

Posted by stomich 11:18 Archived in Ireland Comments (1)

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