Of all the gin joints, in all the world #ileftmyheartin Cairo

The Smart Way Round was born!

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine…”

– Humphrey Bogart, Casablanca

The dingy, overcrowded and dark hotel bar at the Havana Hotel in Cairo is probably not the first choice of bar to meet up with a friend. Long and rectangular with just enough room between the lounges and seats to squeeze past, during a week in October 2009 it became my regular haunt.

The not so glamourous entrance to the Hotel Havana

The not so glamourous entrance to the Hotel Havana

With time off between the summer and winter seasons in Europe, but not enough to do things independently I decided to jump on board an overland truck from Cairo to Nairobi. First things first however, visas and welcome letters had to be arranged. It was at the Australian Embassy waiting to get a letter confirming my Australian passport was real for Sudan that I met Chris. After reading an inch thick travel advice, and followed by the question, “So you still want to go to Sudan?” we had our government stamped confirmation letters and we were on our way.

Over the next few days Chris and I spent the days rummaging through Cairo’s souks, hopping between the Ethiopian Embassy and generally exploring Cairo. Throughout we met several other travellers who would be accompanying us on our adventure south. Every night we would return to the Hotel Havana, where most people were staying before the trip, to have a few beers, catch up and get to know each other.

Chris had spent some time in Dahab before arriving in Cairo to sort visas. During his time there he had met a British girl who would be joining our trip. As Chris put it, “Natalie is a really cool chick”. As the week progressed the odd assortment of intrepid adventures travelling with us filtered into the hotel, but no Natalie.

Natalie relaxing in Dahab before we met

Natalie relaxing in Dahab before we met

One evening, several days before the trip, the band of merry adventurers had assembled in the bar. A thick smoke wafted up towards the ceiling from the various shisha pipes scattered throughout the bar and the heavy scent of apple tea hung in the air. In the background Arabic dance music rang out from an old CD player behind the counter and the low drum of hushed conversation would be broken by raucous laughter from one group to the next.

The rusty old metal detector at the front door would occasionally beep as a new guest entered but the fully armed security guard would only ever give a disinterested glance. I think the security was more there to make us feel safer but I had a feeling if something did happen they would be the first ones out the door!

It was at that point my life changed forever.

Against this backdrop of curling shisha smoke and apple tea the door from the hotel opened. A stream of bright iridescent light streamed into the bar followed by a ghostly silhouette. As the door creaked closed the beaming smiled Natalie replaced the silhouette. “That’s Natalie, the chick I met in Dahab”, Chris exclaimed. I don’t know how and I don’t know why but the moment I saw Natalie I knew I was going to marry her! Little did we both know, it was on that summery night in the smoke hazed hotel bar in Cairo The Smart Way Round was born.

It must have been love...

It must have been love…

That was six years ago. Our adventures have taken us all across the world, five continents and numerous countries. November sees the one-year anniversary of The Smart Way Round but the adventure started years ago. That’s the thing about travel, you never know who you are going to meet. I am always reminded of a comment a guest made on one of my first ever trips around Europe, “You make friends for a reason, a season or a lifetime”. Well in Cairo in 2009 it was definitely the latter and it is the city #ileftmyheartin.

– Dean

The Smart Way Round was born!

The Smart Way Round was born!

Congratulations to our competition winners

DSC06665

Thank you for everyone who took the time to read our latest post regarding great walks in Europe.

Also a huge thank you to those of you who took the time to leave a comment and share their favourite walks.

It is with great pleasure that we can announce our competition winners are:

Norman

Daniel

Shane

Phillipa

Sophie

Joe

We will be in contact over the next day with details on how we can help you claim your free download of a city walking tour of your choice courtesy of our friends as http://www.gpsmycity.com.

In the meantime check out the list of cities available and start thinking about which one you would like to receive the promotional code for.

Thanks once again for your contributions, and happy exploring!

N&D

 

 

10 Must-Do Walks in Europe

IMG_1227

We all agree the best way to explore a city is to pound out the miles, street by street. Some cities however take on an almost magical experience when walking around them. If you are planning a big European trip, we suggest adding these experiences to your bucket list.

1: Rome: Baroque and Ancient Rome

DSC00182

You never know what you may stumble across in Central Rome, maybe a 2,o00 year old temple like the Pantheon

The only way to truly appreciate the Eternal City is on foot. Around every corner is an amazing church, great coffee place or a remnant of the glory days of the Roman Empire. With iconic locations like the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and the Pantheon, Central Rome would have to rank as the number one city to explore on foot in Europe. However hidden near by many of the famous landmarks are some incredible less frequented gems. Our tip; walk behind the Pantheon and visit the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Among some of the cool things here is a statue by Michelangelo, and it is free to visit!

2: Rome: Roman Forum & Colosseum:

Picture 065

Walk where Emperors have walked in the Roman Forum

Where else in Europe can you walk in the footsteps of the likes of Julius Caeser and Marc Antony? Probably nowhere. Let your imagination run wild as you stroll through the crumbling columns and decaying temples of Europe’s greatest Empire.

3: Dubrovnik: Walking the City Walls

Croatia 143

Peering over the rooftops of the historic centre of Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik’s city walls are some of the best preserved in Europe. With a mediterranean setting and overlooking the compact streetscape below, this would have to be the best city walls walk in Europe. Oh, and don’t forget Dubrovnik is a Game of Thrones location so you can pretend you are manning the defences against a fierce attack!

4: Prague: Castle District over Charles Bridge

DSC06665

Follow in the footsteps of Mozart or perhaps Tom Cruise as you walk over the Charles Bridge

Wandering around the streets of Prague is truly like walking through a fairytale. Follow the paths from the Castle to the magical Charles Bridge and finish in the Old Town Square. Our tip; Do the walk a second time at night for the best views of the Castle District from the Charles Bridge.

5: Venice: All of it

DSC06525

It is easy to discover hidden alleys and secluded canals even in the centre of Venice

Venice is unlike any other city in the world and it is not hard to get off the beaten track and stumble across dead end streets or secluded canals with a lone gondolier rowing by. Our tip; Take that map, screw it up and throw it in the bin (if you can find one). Getting lost in Venice is part of the charm and hey if you hit water just turn back!

6: Berlin: Brandenburg Gate to Checkpoint Charlie

img_1095

Stumble across an old East German Trabant as you slink in the shadows around the Brandenburg Gate

Follow in the footsteps of World War II villains or Cold War super spies as you trace the path of the Berlin Wall. An eclectic mix of memorials, modern and communist architecture, no other city in Europe has been so shaped by 20th century history as Berlin.

7: Barcelona: La Rambla and the Gothic Quarter

DSC00082

Plenty of little squares of La Rambla to enjoy a sangria in

La Rambla is without doubt the beating heart of Barcelona. An intense mixture of street performers, tapas bars, tourists and locals you can easily get caught up in the party like atmosphere. After walking the 1.2 kilometres duck into the adjacent Gothic Quarter and explore narrow cobble stoned streets quaint local eateries and the amazing Cathedral.

8: Ljubljana: Old Town

img_0447

The hidden treasure that is Ljubljana

We think you would be hard pressed to find a more charming capital city than Slovenia’s capital. Colourful architecture, a beautiful and unique styled main square and one of the most colourful and photogenic fresh food markets, Ljubljana has it all. Probably our most underrated entrant in this list, but anyone who has visited Slovenia quickly falls in love with it.

9: Paris: The Louvre to Notre Dame

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Notre Dame is a great spot to start or finish your walk along the Seine

Nothing is more quintessentially Parisian than strolling along the Seine. This walk takes in some of Paris’ most iconic buildings and vantage points as well as delving into some of the city’s amazing history. Pop up market and antique stalls, incredible architecture and bookended by two of Paris’ most important sites this walk definitely beats taking the metro.

10: London: East End

London’s East End has an ever changing street art scene

Realistically we could write an entire top 10 purely on walks in London. However the East End takes the cake. From cool speak easy pubs and bars to an incredible street art scene, the East End has something for everyone.

Now its your turn. Do you love exploring new cities but get disheartened when you don’t know what you are looking at or where you are going? Thanks to our friends at GPSmyCity we are giving away 20 promotional codes to download a city tour of your choice for any IOS device (only) from over 400 cities world wide, and it is for free! All you have to do is share a photo or leave a comment below and tell us your favourite European city to explore on foot or even better, the European city you have always dreamt about exploring.

You have until January 8th to enter and winners will be announced on the 9th of January. We will announce the winners here on the blog as well as on our Facebook page (so make sure you give it a like if you have not sone so already) and we will be in contact shortly after to help you claim your prize. Good luck!

N&D

 

Essential Guide to German Christmas Market Food

IMG_2444

It’s the most wonderful time of the year and nobody does Christmas in Europe like the Germanic countries.

While the German and Austrian Christmas markets are famed for their wooden decorations and glass baubles, the Christmas markets are also time to overindulge in seasonal Christmas food and drink. If you are visiting the Christmas Markets this December, make sure you don’t leave without trying these…

Glühwein

A German Christmas markets visit is not complete until you have huddled under a gas burner, nestled in close with friends, nursing a steaming hot mug of Glühwein (mulled wine). A mixture of wine, fruits and spices, Glühwein is supposed to help cut through the effects of the cold and give you a nice glow on the inside. Most markets have specialised and specific mugs for their Glühwein for which you pay a deposit (between 2.50/3.00€). When you have finished your wine you can either return your mug and receive your deposit back, or you can keep the mug as a cheap souvenir. Our tip; take your used mug back and get a clean one if you are going to keep it! You can also upgrade or turbo boost your Glühwein by adding a shot of schnapps, brandy, amaretto or a multitude of other liqueurs into it. Prost!

IMG_2428

Enjoying a mug with my Dad in Cologne

Bratwurst.

Ok, so you can try bratwurst anytime you visit Germany and Austria, however if one hand is occupied with Glühwein then your spare hand can easy handle a sausage! You will find all different varieties, from your stock standard bratwurst, to smoked sausage and our personal favourite found in Austria, käsekrainer. A pork sausage with melted cheese running through the middle. This bad boy is a heart attack in a hot dog roll, but be warned, it will repeat on you all day. What better way to explore the Christmas Markets than with a meal that keeps on giving.

IMG_2423

And this is a small one!

Reibekuchen

Grated potato made into a pancake which is fried and covered in apple sauce. Only Germany could make something relatively healthy unhealthy!

IMG_2446

Deep fried potato cakes, yum!

Chocolate Coated Fruit sticks.

Another Christmas treat, skewers of various fruits such as cherries, strawberries, banana and mandarins dipped in chocolate. We even managed to find fruit dipped in chocolate and covers in crushed Oreo biscuits – however for copyright purposes they were not called Oreo!

IMG_2449

Does Christmas food get any better than chocolate covered fruit?

Lebkuchen

Traditional gingerbread comes in all shapes and sizes at Christmas time from heart shapes, blocks and even Santa inspired designs. For those with alergies it is also possible to hunt down gluten free lebkuchen.

IMG_2965

Traditional Lebkuchen stall in the Vienna Christmas Markets

Kaiser Schmarrn

A form of rather heavy and gluggy pieces of pancake, sometimes mixed with raisens and accompanied by fruit sauce, sugar or our favourite, vanilla sauce!

IMG_3027

Kaiserschmarren will stick to your insides and insulate you against the cold

Oh and did we mention Glühwein?!

Merry Christmas everyone

N&D

A Weekend Guide to Stockholm

One of the best things about living in London is the proximity to most of Europe. In just over two hours you can be almost anywhere on the continent, so those of you living or working in the UK can take some fantastic weekend breaks. it was with this in mind we spent a weekend in Sweden’s capital of cool, Stockholm. Below is our guide to a weekend in the capital to maximise your time and see most of the main sites.

Saturday Day 1:

Kick off your day with a grab and go breakfast from one of the bakeries or supermarkets in the main train station. You will quickly find Scandinavian countries are expensive so a cheap breakfast will keep you on budget as well as save you time.

While eating breakfast head down to the Stockholm Town Hall. First guided tours in English are at 10:00am. The town hall is home to the Nobel Prize Banquets, is beautifully decorated inside and gives you a great introduction to the city. In the middle of summer you can also climb the town hall tower for some excellent views over the city.

The Stockholm Town Hall gives a great historical introduction to the city

The very impressive "Gold Room" of the Town Hall

The very impressive “Gold Room” of the Town Hall

From the town hall it is only a short walk over to the Old Town of Stockholm on the island of Gamla Stan. The Royal Palace is situated here and has a rather unique changing of the guards ceremony (12:15 daily, 13:15 Sunday’s and holidays). Spend the rest of the afternoon exploring Gamla Stan, there are a number of museums including the Nobel Prize Museum, peruse the numerous souvenir stores selling everything from Viking paraphernalia, anything yellow and blue to wooden Dala horses a traditional Swedish gift. Alternatively you can take in some retail therapy (remember H&M is Swedish)  along the pedestrianised shopping street of Drottninggatan.

The changing of the guards ceremony drags on a little but the colourful uniforms make for some great photos

The changing of the guards ceremony drags on a little but the colourful uniforms make for some great photos

This evening head over to the Skeppsholmen (an island opposite Gamla Stan) to watch the sunset over the city. Tonight you can dine in one of the many restaurants in Gamla Stan or head over to Södermalm home to loads of cool restaurants, bars and pubs. While you find them all over the world nowadays the original Ice Bar is in Stockholm, it is best to book ahead.

Sunday Day 2:

After an easy start to the day it is time to hit a couple of museums. First visit the Vasa Museum, showcasing the recovered and restored Vasa an enormous warship from the 1600’s that lay under water for over 300 years (it only sailed for less than 20 minutes!). Amazingly this museum is dedicated to one of the country’s biggest screw ups but is incredibly impressive. Make sure you watch the short documentary, the recovery of the boat is almost as fascinating as the boat itself.

The Vasa is dedicated to Sweden's greatest military and naval disaster but the restoration is amazing

The Vasa is dedicated to Sweden’s greatest military and naval disaster but the restoration is amazing

From the Vasa a short walk will take you to one of the newest museums. Time to break out the sequins and flares as you step into the Abba Museum. With interactive displays, a piano linked up to Benny’s piano back home, so when he plays it plays and a flashing dance floor continuously pumping out Dancing Queen you don’t have to be a diehard fan to enjoy it!

Deep down everyone has a favourite Abba song!

Deep down everyone has a favourite Abba song!

Can you name the Swedish Fab Four?

Can you name the Swedish Fab Four?

The rest of Sunday you can do as you please, perhaps take a cruise around the islands, or just chill out in one of the many parks with the locals before you have to head back to the airport and home.

While a weekend is definitely not long enough to explore all Stockholm has to offer, for those of you short on time this plan of attack will help you cover most of the main attractions of the city.

– Dean

Chilling out at the Chocolate Cafe in Gamla Stan.

Chilling out at the Chocolate Cafe in Gamla Stan.

Practical Information: 
There are regular flights from London to Stockholm, check out http://www.ba.com or http://www.easyjet.com.
There is a regular train service from the airport to town centre and reverse and costs approximately, wait for it, £50, welcome to Scandinavia everyone!

Ampelmann: East Berlin’s Cold War Hero

Ampelmann & Ampelfrau (found in Dresden), so much more appealing than the boring Western crossing signal

From the devastation of WWII to the post war division, wherever you stand in Berlin you are always reminded of the city’s tragic twentieth century history. During the peak of the Cold War there were an estimated 16 spy agencies working in the city and while James Bond and Jason Bourne have moved on ( as far as we know) one Cold War hero has lasted the test of time. That man is the East Berlin Ampelmann.

Ampelmann, like any good spy can be easily overlooked or passed by, and after the German reunification he began to meld back into the shadows. However the citizens needed a hero, they needed a man to rally around to preserve their culture and Ampelmann was that man.

So who is Ampelmann? Put simply he is the road crossing man.

Bernauer Strasse was one of the most important sites of the Berlin Wall, and Ampelmann still stands guard today

Bernauer Strasse was one of the most important sites of the Berlin Wall, and Ampelmann still stands guard today

It was easy to tell what part of Berlin you where in based purely upon the road crossing signals. In West Berlin you had the boring capitalist slightly depressing looking stick figure we know around the world. Not in East Berlin! East Berlin (and East Germany as a whole) had Ampelmann, a slightly paunchy communist crossing man that oozed charisma. When stopped he stood defiantly, arms out stressed ( as opposed to the almost anaemic looking western version). When green he strode confidently, head held high, back arched as he marched off to work like all happy communists were expected to do!

Ampelmann & Ampelfrau (found in Dresden), so much more appealing than the boring Western crossing signal

Ampelmann & Ampelfrau (found in Dresden), so much more appealing than the boring Western crossing signal

After the fall of the wall his life was threatened, like many a good spy he was being hunted and was slowly being replaced by the western crossing man, the Cold War was over, and it appeared his time was quickly running out too.

However the people of East Berlin rallied around Ampelmann and he is now one of the symbols of the city. In the 1990’s a committee for the preservation of ampelmann was set up. The media jumped on board, the campaign grew and eventually politicians had to take note, the people had spoken! Nowadays whole souvenir stores dedicated to him can be found throughout Berlin selling everything from Ampelmann ice cube trays and cookie cutters to wine stops, bags, hats even Ampelmann Gummi Bears!

One of the many Ampelmann stores throughout Berlin. Do you really need those ice cube trays, well yes!

One of the many Ampelmann stores throughout Berlin. Do you really need those ice cube trays, well yes!

In fact he has become so popular that when new crossing signals are now installed across Berlin regardless of East or West it is Ampelmann who stands stops you victoriously across the city.

The face of Berlin has changed dramatically since the reunification in 1991.  History will say the West won the Cold War, but in Berlin one Cold War icon has endured. In Berlin the East had at least one victory and it takes the form of the Ampelmann…

Striding confidently off into the future...

Striding confidently off into the future…

– Dean

Our Pre Oktoberfest Checklist

It is that time of the year again, time to join thousands of travellers from around the world as you descend upon Southern Germany. So you are planning to hit the world’s largest beer festival? The Oktoberfest is almost a rite of passage for many backpackers travelling around Europe. However for many it can also be their downfall. By following our Pre-Oktoberfest checklist you can avoid some of the pitfalls of Munich’s craziest two weeks and ensure you have an awesome time!

The Hofbrau tent main entrance

The Hofbrau tent main entrance

1. Book Your Accommodation Early!

To be totally honest, if you are reading this and still haven’t got a place to stay you are pretty much too late! Accommodation is at a premium during the ‘Fest’ and even dorm rooms are ridiculously expensive. Camping is an option and Camping Thalkirchen is probably your best bet, but be prepared for masses of organised groups packing out the campsite. If you do camp make sure you are first ones into the shower block after they have been cleaned, you have been warned!

With some tents holding over 5000 people you better book accommodation early

With some tents holding over 5000 people you better book accommodation early

Remember, if all else fails do as the locals do and pass out under a tree in the grounds, dozens of locals can’t be wrong can they, oh and don’t forget to pack the beer blanket.

2. Start Drinking Now!

The Bräuhaus’ of Munich brew extra strong beer for Oktoberfest , somewhere between the five and eight percent alcohol mark! Combine that with the fact a stein is one litre, many an unsuspecting traveller have found their day or night coming to an early end because of a lack of ‘beer stamina’. On the bright side Munich brewers abide by the 1516 Beer Purity Laws meaning there are no additives or preservatives added to their beers. According to the Bräu Meisters it is the additives and preservatives that give you a hangover! So technically regardless of your beer drinking capacity you should be able to knock back steins all night and wake up fine in the morning!

Start building your drinking fitness before Oktoberfest!

Start building your drinking fitness before Oktoberfest!

Now The Smart Way Round have laid their bodies on the line all in the name of research and we can attest that after downing 10 steins in a night the next morning you don’t feel hungover! Well, you still don’t feel great but your body is expecting to feel worse than you actually do so perhaps the Bräu Meisters are correct. More research must be done on this one we think, but in the mean time start improving you drinking skills.

For some the experience can be all too much

For some the experience can be all too much

3. Bring Loads of Money.

For the first time ever a stein of beer is hitting and in some tents breaking the 10 euro barrier. So a decent session in one of the Oktoberfest beer tents is going to set you back a small fortune (or the price of a dorm bed for a night).

With steins costing around 10 Euro this year it could be an expensive shout

With steins costing around 10 Euro this year it could be an expensive shout

At some stage you are going to have to eat. Once the beer goggles are put on every girl in a dirndl selling giant pretzels is going to look like the most beautiful girl you have ever laid eyes on. The likelihood of numerous pretzel purchases is virtually guaranteed.

Beware the charms of the pretzel girls!

Beware the charms of the pretzel girls!

There is also a good chance you are going to walk out of there with an overpriced souviner but by the end of the night you REALLY are going to need that felt hat with a stuffed Bavarian Lion attached to it.

So our suggestion is call home for emergency funds, raise the credit card limit and just accept you literally are going to flush your cash down the loo at Oktoberfest!

Did I really buy that last night?!

Did I really buy that last night?!

4. Buy Lederhosen or a Dirndl.

Hey you are in Bavaria! All the locals will be sporting their traditional costumes so why not you?

I promise you from experience there is nothing more fun than drinking beer wearing leather shorts that are way too tight but strangely comfortable.

Everyone at Oktoberfest will be wearing it

Everyone at Oktoberfest will be wearing it

However be warned, when that emergency bathroom dash happens or when you get caught at the back of the inevitable enormous line to the gents, for the first time wearer lederhosen can be a nightmare to get undone!

Our tip, practice that emergency dash in your hotel or hostel so when the time comes you are a lederhosen undoing pro!

5. Make a copy of your Passport.

Over 1000 passports get lost annually at the Oktoberfest with the majority of them being Australian! In fact things are so bad the Australian Embassy opens a temporary passport replacement service in the British Consulate in Munich.

Of course it will never happen to all of us will it, but just in case have a few photocopies of your passport and a couple of spare passport photos ready, oh and don’t keep them with your passport!

Finally have a great time, you are partaking in a tradition dating back over 200 years, eat, drink (too much) and try and remember for many this is a once in a lifetime opportunity! Do you have any hints and tips for the Oktoberfest First Timer? Let’s us know and leave a comment below

Prost!

Most of all enjoy!

Most of all enjoy!

– Dean