The natural progression of travel…

When Dean and I started ‘serious’ travelling, we did so alone. No one to disagree with (but yourself), no one to compromise with over what you saw and did, the ultimate freedom. Bliss. And bliss it was – for us both for many years. We would travel the world, unaware of each others existence, and loved every minute of it and the time we spent with new-found friends.

Africa beckoned, and separately we considered our options. We both decided to join a trip (organised travel being slightly nerve-wracking for us by this point as we were used to ‘going it alone’). In order to maximise our time in Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, independently we decided this was the only way. Well the trip brought about more than views of the stunning Ethiopian Mountains – it brought about the start of The Smart Way Round. A future not only full of happiness but also a nice dollop of travel thrown in too. We could not have been a better match on that front.

So travel changed. And change for the better it did. I didn’t think it was possible to enjoy travelling with someone as much as travelling alone. I quickly found out it is. We travelled thousands of kilometres on a train. Owing to our slightly unconventional relationship (and Dean’s exciting job in travel) people questioned, “oooh what if you don’t get on?” How could we not? We met travelling, seeing each other at our best and our worst (imagine a week without running water in Sudan). Spending 24/7 in each others pockets. We can be apart for weeks at a time, but what we like best is when we are travelling together. The journeys that we have taken have been fantastic, and full of effortless compromise as I take Dean up yet another monument or to an Olympic Park (things he has grown to love too!) and he surveys every statue and takes me to historic or Roman sites. Each of us experiencing things that might have passed us by without each other.

With this, the biggest change of our travelling life is yet to happen. Travelling as a ‘we’ was big enough, but life is about to take another twist and turn. In September we will welcome the newest member of The Smart Way Round, as Baby Smart makes three. Travel will have to change, I have no doubt. Life will get harder, 48 hour weekend breaks will have to get longer. However one thing is for sure. I won’t be stopping going to see Dean at the start or end of his trips. Oh no. Baby Smart and I will have adventures together as we go and seek out ‘Daddy’ in different places. People think I’m naïve, and in truth I don’t know what the sleep deprivation will do to us, or how we will feel. However one thing is for sure. We have a long travel bucket list that we want to experience, but have saved some of them for ‘one day if we have children’. Well that one day is now here… and with that there are other places to explore and Baby Smart will be coming too!

So armed with my copy of ‘The Lonely Planet: Travel with Children’ (Thanks Hemingway’s!) and ‘Tales from a Travelling Mum’ I’m off to prepare for what people say will be the best chapter of our life. We don’t doubt it will, especially as we continue to combine it with a little bit of what we love….

– Natalie (Dean and Baby Smart)

Now just off to find a baby backpack!

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The Prague Beer Spa: Immersing ourselves in Czech Beer Culture (Literally!)

The Czech Republic loves beer. In fact they rank number one in the world for beer consumption, drinking on average 144 litres of beer for every baby, child, teenager, adult, pregnant woman and tourist in the country! Beer is as much part of the national identity as ice hockey, and names like Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen and Budweiser are sources of national pride. However one local brewer, Bernard, has taken the love of beer a step further. Introducing the Bernard Beer Spa! So purely in the name of research I put my body on the line and decided to immerse myself (literally) in traditional Czech beer culture.

The entrance to the Bernard Beer Spa

The entrance to the Bernard Beer Spa

Nestled in a small courtyard behind the imposing Tyn Church just off the Old Town Square is the first Bernard beer spa. Upon arrival you are met by the beer spa assistant and led down into the cellar, the smell of hops is thick in the air and cellar looks as if (and probably was) constructed several hundred years ago. After getting changed and locking your items away you are ushered into the spa room proper, where there in front of you is an enormous spa bath shaped and styled to look like a giant beer barrel.

The spa assistant then explains the process. The water is covered with green tinged bubbles, a result of the hops that is mixed into the water. Yeast is added too, and all the beer ingredients are apparently good for your skin! “Most important is not to shower for 12 hours after the spa, that way you get the full effects of the beer treatment” I was sternly informed. Luckily wandering around Prague smelling like beer you will certainly not be out of place.

Time to find out what it feels like to be beer

Time to find out what it feels like to be beer

Most importantly though, during your 30 minute beer bubbling experience you can also consume as much Bernard beer as you can drink. Hmm, unlimited alcohol and a piping hot spa bath what could possibly go wrong?! As if the assistant was reading my mind, or perhaps had seen it all before I was then warned about the consequences of excessive drinking while sitting in the spa, but it was up to me.

With the jets churning and the beer barrel steaming hot I jumped in grabbed my glass and poured quite possibly the worst beer I have ever poured! I was also warned not to mix the beer from the tap with the beer in the spa, however the thought of drinking my own beer spa water had never really crossed my mind.

All you can drink ice cold beer from your own private beer tap

All you can drink ice cold beer from your own private beer tap

After thirty minutes of percolating away, the jets turn off and that is your signal to get out of the bath. Infused with hoppy goodness and enveloped in a warm glow (Im not sure if that was from the relaxing bath or the four pints I drank) I stumbled (well the floor was slippery) into the adjacent room where you are then treated to a 30 minute lay down on a hot rock bed. Wrapped tighter than a Czech Kebab on a Saturday night, “Just ring the bell if you need more beer” I was told, but to be honest  it took me nearly 30 minutes to break free from the blanket I was encased in!

If you are looking for more pampering you can also book massages but the bed was enough for me. At the conclusion of your treatment you are given a certificate to commemorate the experience and given a Bernard beer of your choice to take home as a souvenir, or perhaps to use as a traveller on the way back to your accommodation. The last thing I heard as I ascended the stairs and back onto the street was “Don’t forget, no shower for 12 hours!”. With that, smelling like a brewery, carrying a beer in hand I staggered back onto the streets of Prague.

Na zdraví

Na zdraví (to your health)

– Dean

Practicalities:

The Bernard Beer Spa is open Daily 11:30-22:00

For reservations you can visit their website by clicking here 

Liebster Award: Getting to know The Smart Way Round

This year is already shaping up as a big year for us and to round out the first four months of the year we have just been nominated for the Liebster Blogging Award

The Liebster Award is awarded to bloggers by other bloggers. It is a little like an old-fashioned chain letter but helps the blogging community to connect and help expose blogs to new audiences. Basically you are asked a set of questions which you answer and then you nominate other blogs to follow suit. We can thank Heidi from Hobo In High Heels for the nomination. If you get the chance check out her blog there is some really cool stuff there, so thanks Heidi for the nomination.

So here we go, 11 questions to get the insider knowledge on what makes the Smart Way Round tick!

1.What does a normal day in your life look like?

Dean: What is normal? A normal ‘work’ day for me involves taking anywhere up to 48 people on a coach holiday around the stunning cities of Central Europe. No day is ever the same as you meet and interact with people from all around the world, share travel stories with them and get to show them sites they have always dreamed of seeing. For a travel lover and blogger it is the perfect job, but definitely not ‘normal’.

2 What is your coolest travel story?

We have both been lucky to do some pretty amazing things around the world, but the reason we got into blogging was for our overland adventure from London to Melbourne. To travel 20,000 km across over a third of the world without having to board a plane is probably our coolest travel story. For a lot of people we speak to it is hard to fathom just how far we travelled and it is definitely something we look back on with a great sense of pride and achievement. (You can check out our earliest posts for more on that adventure).

3. What are three things on your bucket list?

Dean: The top three countries on my travel bucket list are Greenland, Bhutan and Tanzania. Three extremely different countries but all three have an immense appeal to me.

4. What is your least favourite travel destination?

We don’t really have a least favourite destination, it sounds a little clichéd but everywhere is cool for different reasons. That being said Dean spends a lot of time working in Central Europe so it is probably not his first choice of travel destination for a holiday.

5. What place have you always dreamed of visiting?

Dean: Ever since I started travelling I have wanted to Husky Sled in Greenland during winter to see the Northern Lights, one day maybe! Last year we saw so many places I had always dreamed of seeing, the Great Wall of China, the Terracotta Warriors and the Taj Mahal. The best thing about seeing them though was I could start dreaming about new places to visit.

Best thing about seeing bucket list sites is writing a new bucket list!

Best thing about seeing bucket list sites is writing a new bucket list!

6. What is your ultimate guilty pleasure?

Dean: My guilty pleasure when we travel is my GoPro camera. I love that thing, and love playing around with it. If you ask Natalie, she will tell you i love it more than her (I would like to clarify however that is not true).

7. What is one of your most embarrassing moments?

Dean: I once turned up at the airport to fly back to London from Australia a day before my flight was actually scheduled to depart. My folks had dropped me to the airport, drove off, and I was back on their doorstep half an hour after they returned home!

8. What is your favourite thing about traveling?

We love discovering new places and experiencing new cultures. The sense of adventure and the feeling of freedom and not having to worry about ‘normal life’ stresses.

9. What is the best thing anyone has said about your blog?

Everyone has been so supportive of our blog. So really all the comments we have received we have loved. We suppose anytime someone has found our hints and tips helpful and thanked us for sharing is the best thing. The most amazing thing is how many people we have never met read and follow it. In fact the majority of our friends don’t actually read it. That is probably because they get sick of hearing all our stories in the flesh.

10. Tell me about one of the best meals you’ve ever had!

Dean: One of the most memorable meals we have had travelling was when we caught up with one of Natalie’s work contacts, Tan Jun, in Chengdu. We went out for traditional Sichuan Hot Pot and had an amazing night. I will try just about anything, but Natalie is by her own admission a little particular when it comes to meat. Well that night I watched her eat things I would never have dreamed of including stomach and intestines. The food was incredible but the evening was made by Tan Jun and his wife Wendy. (You can read more about the experience by clicking here)

Sichuan Hot Pot, so good!

Sichuan Hot Pot, so good!

11. What makes you happy?

Nothing makes us more happy than throwing our backpacks on and heading off to some far-flung land that we have not explored yet. It is how we met and how The Smart Way Round was formed and is something we hope we will continue to do.

Backpacks = Happiness

Backpacks = Happiness

Ok so now it is time to share the love. Our nominees in no particular order are:

Matt & Alana from Great Big Globe

Our good friend Wayne from Wayne Central

Rusty form Roadtrip Rusty

The team at Teabags and Toilet Rolls

Ana Karina at Wanderfinds

Brianna at Casual Travelist

Your mission, should you choose to accept it is to answer the following 11 questions:

1. What three things can you not go travelling without?

2. If you could only visit one more place in the world where would that be?

3. What is the most unusual food you have tried on your travels?

4. Are you a luxury traveller or more of an adventure traveller?

5. Who inspired you to travel?

6. What is your biggest travel regret?

7. What is the coolest thing to see in your hometown?

8. Share your favourite travel photo and why is it your favourite?

9. What is the worst souvenir you have ever bought?

10. If you could live in any country which country would that be?

11. What do you most enjoy about travelling?

Good luck, this message will self destruct in five seconds…. (well not really but it would be cool if it did)

Why Nepal will need the travel community

It is with heavy hearts and great sadness we have watched the tragedy of the Nepal earthquake unfold. All too often natural disasters strike countries that lack the infrastructure, equipment and resources to deal with them.

The earthquake has killed thousands and destroyed the majority of historic UNESCO listed buildings not to mention the numerous people unaccounted for at the foot of Everest. Over the next few weeks news crews from around the world will be flying into Nepal, there will be blanket news coverage, but then what? All too quickly the world will forget about Nepal as the next disaster strikes, or the latest cash crisis hits the EU.

Much of Patan Durbar Square now lays in ruins...

Much of Patan Durbar Square now lays in ruins…

Over the years Natalie and I have witnessed first hand the devastating flow on effect these disaster can have on local communities. I had been in Bali six weeks before the bombings in 2002 and when I returned two years later I found the streets deserted, people who had so heavily relied upon tourism struggling to make ends meet. Natalie was in Koh Pi Pi shortly after the tsunami of 2005, and last year we spent time on the Filipino Island of Malapascua only months after Typhoon Haiyan had ripped through the community (in fact our dive centre had only regained electricity the week before we arrived). For those who follow our blog you will also be aware of our push for people to return to Egypt now the country has settled down.

Ask anyone who has visited Nepal and they will tell you what an amazing place it is. The stunning Himalayan Mountain range towering over the bustling and vibrant Kathmandu Valley. Filled with amazing architecture and incredibly friendly and fascinating people. So what, as the travel community, can we do?

Happier times, Natalie and one of the locals in Bhaktapur

Happier times, Natalie and one of the locals in Bhaktapur

Already there have been some amazing initiatives. Intrepid Travel have set up a Nepal Earthquake Appeal through their Intrepid Foundation as have a number of tour operators who specialise in the area. Most importantly, the travel community cannot forget about Nepal. In the months and years to follow, the country and the people will need us more than ever. The country relies heavily upon tourism, and more than any tin rattle, or petition signing, by encouraging visitors to continue to visit is one of the best ways to help Nepal overcome this tragedy. The country will need tourists more than ever and by not cancelling your travel plans or for those of us who have visited, continuing to promote Nepal to our friends, the travel community can have a positive impact in rebuilding Nepal.

Sadly however, in the meantime we can only hope and pray for the families of the missing and the lost…

– Dean

Click here to see the comparison of just how much of Nepal’s historic buildings have been destroyed.

 

Flying long-haul? What do we take with us to pass the time?

We’ve all been there.  You check-in at the airport and you are staring a 16-hour day time flight right between the eyes.  Ok so this is probably our longest day-time stint (on the way back from the Philippines) but even 12 hours during the day can feel like a long time.  This was the situation we were in when we flew to Cuba.  We had chosen to fly with a budget airline – more down to flight times rather than budget – and as soon as I sat down on the plane and they didn’t have personal screens in the seats, I was grateful for the bag of goodies I had brought with me to keep us entertained.  So what’s on our long haul must pack list?

1. Decent headphones!  With or without screens in the back of your seat these are a must.  Some airlines provide pretty average headphones while some budget airlines will sell you a pair, but when you are seated near two screaming 18 month old twins for 12 hours (yes this happened) you will be grateful for them.  Film or no film – they are a necessity!  I inherited a pair of noise cancelling earphones from Dean and they are now the perfect flying accessory.

2. iPod / iPhone / iPad or critically, music!  If the film selection fails you or you just want to switch off, this is your best bet. Pre make a chill out playlist, or perhaps get into the mood of your final destination with a location specific playlist. If music is not your thing, you can always download four seasons of Game of Thrones!

3. A good book / Kindle – this is always on my packing list, but to be honest the flying conditions have to be perfect for me to read.  The slightest bump and it goes back in my bag!  A good backup though for when you get tired of your music selection.

4. A set of travel Connect Four or Uno cards.  Whenever Dean and I travel (not just fly) we have these in our bags and the dual continues!  Normally one of us gets on a winning streak – annoying the other. (Currently it is me!)

A fun and competitive way to pass the time

 

5. Water.  I usually take an empty bottle through security with me.  The best airports tend to have water fountains for you to top up your bottle.  Some airlines such as Korean Air give you a bottle as you board – a great piece of service.  At any rate, having a bottle in the back of the seat keeps you hydrated (and makes you go to the loo so is a good chance to walk around!)

6. Head ache tablets – I’m not sure if it’s the stress of flying (yes for all my air miles I’m not the greatest fan), dehydration or flight conditions, but I often end up with a headache.  Some easily accessible tablets are a must for me.

7. Snacks!  For our recent Cuba flight I had everything from cereal bars to boiled sweets.  Everything in moderation, but they pass the time during the hours that drag.

8. A light fleece to wear backwards if the air con is set to sub freezing temperatures.

9. A Buff or Head Scarf. Great to block out unwanted light from the Cabin if you are trying to catch up on sleep. They can wrap around your head in different ways and a scarf can act like an extra pillow.

Buffs are extremely versatile and handy for blocking out cabin light

Buffs are extremely versatile and handy for blocking out cabin light

If, like me, you are blessed (ha ha) with a husband who sleeps on flights, then you might find you don’t get round to using some of these.  However they are all things that will come in handy at some point during your holiday.

Above all I like to sit by the aisle then I can walk-around and stretch my legs.  Flying really does feel more like a marathon than a sprint sometimes.  As we all know it’s a means to an end and one that is worth every piece of the boredom along the way.

–  Natalie

Cuba’s heart beats to the rhythm of Salsa

Cuba and music.  The two go together like rum and coke.  We knew we would love the music and dancing vibe… but we didn’t realise quite how much.

I have danced for about 15 years, never specifically salsa, but thanks to my last dance partner Rob I can get by with a good lead.  Dean had decided that if ever there was a time to learn, then Cuba would be it.  So off we went with great expectations and sometimes these can be a bad thing.  However in Cuba you can expect the world with the dancing and music scene, and you most certainly will not be disappointed.

The local professionals in Santa Clara. Oh and check out the dude in red!

The local professionals in Santa Clara. Oh and check out the dude in red!

Our first introduction came during a late afternoon stroll around Santa Clara . We stumbled across a band playing in the main plaza.  The word stumble is probably a bit inaccurate really…… the band were creating quite a spectacle, which the salsa loving locals fully embraced and the square broke out into dance (Imagine a Cuban flash mob).  Later that night the party shifted to the bandstand where a huge ensemble provided the entertainment. I spent all evening watching feet, working out how to make my steps look as good as those of the locals’.

We quickly learned this was just the beginning. Every city had its focal points, but sometimes the better music was just the impromptu affairs. In Trinidad there was a lovely little square where four men sat playing with a guitar, a set of drums and random other percussion. In Holguin the weekly Saturday street party literally got us dancing in the streets.

The beautiful musical city of Trinidad

The beautiful musical city of Trinidad

For me, the real musical highlight was Trinidad – a city that prides itself on the music scene.  On a very hot and humid day we turned a corner to hear graceful tunes playing from Casa De Trova – a famed music hall.  We looked at each other, and didn’t even have to say, ‘shall we go in’ – the decision was made.  We spent a couple of mornings just listening to the band, and I even made friends with the band front man.  Twice my age, he had more than twice as many salsa steps as me and I took great pleasure in following him around the stage.  I think we got almost more claps than the professional teachers who were there…. Although I’m sure the claps were aimed in a, ‘oh she’s having a go’ way.

Arguably my favourite night in Cuba came when we went to the Casa Musica in Trinidad – if you only do one thing in Trinidad, then this should be it.  At the top of a staired-terrace, the setting was perfect.  Bands play day and night, and we set up camp on the front row.  There were some simply AMAZING dancers there.  During the evening we were joined by a Swiss lady who was learning to Salsa in town.  She was very good by all accounts, and urged me to approach someone for a dance.  I picked my song (and my strapping 6 foot Cuban) and not-so-confidently walked up and asked him to dance.  In the ballroom world it is not the done thing.  In the Cuban world anything goes!  A couple of dances later and I felt proud of myself!  Dancing under the moonlight at the Casa Muscia in Trinidad was something I will never forget.

In Baracoa we were treated to the dancing front man.  With what looked like a tight-permed mullet, this all singing, all dancing Casanova could certainly move!  He asked me for a Bachata, and made a beeline for me every time we were there.  They played in a couple of different bars, each of them just as good.  I’ve never danced at the same time as someone singing before, but I recommend it!

Not to be outdone Dean decided this was his chance to shine too, and shine he did.  In Trinidad and Santiago de Cuba we took some salsa lessons.  123, 567 – he mastered it!  Our challenge now is to keep it up.  When no one was looking we would have a twirl, or when walking past a bar we would pick out the beat.

Plenty of places to learn a few new moves

Plenty of places to learn a few new moves

Our biggest bit of advice for Cuba is to keep your ears open and go with the music flow.  More or less every lunch or drink stop was guided by where the music was playing.  We might only have caught the end of a set but in some cases it was so good we had to have a second Pina Colada to wait for them to start again!  Generally speaking after a session the basket came round, and if you wanted you could buy CDs.  We bought a couple from our favourite bands, however everywhere else we put a few coins in the pot.  I saw some people refuse, but for us it was a very small price to pay for the incredible entertainment and enjoyment it provided.

As for keeping up with the Cubans, I don’t think I ever looked quite as good, but I certainly gave it a good shot!  No one will ever judge you or stop from trying in Cuba – so even if you only know some wedding dancing moves, get up there, have a go and join the fiesta!

– Natalie

Going Our Separate Ways

Wow what an amazing year we have had! It feels like only yesterday we arrived back home after our pic overland adventure from London to Melbourne. So in honour of being backa year we have reposted our blog from our arrival back into London in 2014!

 

What an amazing journey the last five months have been. From London to Beijing then back to Delhi all overland by train, then some incredible memories through Myanmar, Australia and the Philippines. Sadly however all good things must come to an end.

For ‘The Smart Way Round’ that means it is now time for Natalie and I to go our separate ways.

Wait a minute, didn’t we just celebrate our first wedding anniversary living it large around London? We certainly did, going our separate ways simply refers to heading back to work. For Natalie that means back down to Somerset to start work again in the office for Oasis Overland, while for me, I fly out to Munich to take my first group of Guests around Central Europe for Trafalgar Travel.

Now I know what you are thinking, both working for travel companies and Dean running around Europe having an awesome time, that doesn’t really sound like work does it?! After five months together 24/7 it will certainly not be easy and getting back into a structured routine will take some time.

With us back in Europe The Smart Way Round is also going to change a little. We will be dropping back to one blog a week now, we still have some great stories to share about the London to Melbourne adventure, and Natalie will be posting a summary of all the statistics relating to our journey, but work kind of gets in the way right? We will also be sharing stories from Europe and introducing a new category of our blog called ‘Hometown Tourist’ sniffing out all the cool, quirky and different things to do around London. So really this is not the end of The Smart Way Round but only the beginning!

Exploring new places in London

Exploring new places in London

Thanks again for everyone’s support, comments and love over the last five months, because of you The Smart Way Round has grown bigger than we could have possibly imagined.

– Dean