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!

Advertisements

Happy Blogaversary! Eight Statistics to Celebrate a Year of Blogging

This week marks our one year blogaversay. Around the same time last year we were preparing for our epic overland adventure through 13 countries on our way to Australia. While it was an incredible and life changing five and a half months we never really thought about what would happen to our blog once we safely returned back home to London. We finally decided to stick with it and are so glad we have. Year one as travel bloggers has been a steep learning curve, from negotiating Chinese firewalls, internet black spots, bloggers block and worse of all real life and having to go to work! It hasn’t always been easy finding time to blog but after a bit of a lull in the middle of the year we rediscovered our travel mojo and are excited about what year number two has in store.

Back at the beginning leaving home almost a year ago!

Back at the beginning leaving home almost a year ago!

So to celebrate our blogaversay below are some statistics to summaries The Smart Way Round’s first year:

1. Number of Posts: 79 (including this one)

2. Total Number of Website views: 8,604 (not bad for a small little travel blog)

3. Countries where people have read our blog: 104 (Great Britain, Australia & United States occupy top three spots)

4. Our most popular posts: “Rehabilitation of a Four – Letter Word”, “Our Pre Oktoberfest Checklist” & “Meet Us”

5 Followers on Twitter: 3,908

6. Followers on Instagram: 338

7. Likes on our Facebook Page: 712

8. Versions of our website: 1 (but we are slowly working on upgrading it, another steep learning curve)

The two of us would like to say a huge thank you for the amazing support we have received over the last year. From the comments, to the shares and follows ‘The Smart Way Round’ has far exceeded both our expectations. So here is to another fantastic year of travels, characters and amazing experiences, see you all on The Smart Way Round…

– Dean

A toast to another year of adventures

A toast to another year of adventures

 

Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world…

“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 five 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….

– Dean

The Smart Way Round was born!

The Smart Way Round was born!

 

To spend or to avoid… Airport shopping!

Airport duty free shopping. It divides opinion. For some travellers it is a ticket to spend. For others it’s a painful gauntlet that’s full of dilly dalliering travellers rushing to catch flights.

I have some friends who look forward to the experience. They stock up on cheaper priced face creams, cosmetics and perfume.

I have others who avoid the shops like the plague and instead find a seat in the corner to ‘man the bags’ whilst their partner goes off shopping. I would suggest that this also works well!

Whether you are rushing for a flight or have time to kill, the Duty Free section is sure to get in your way or give you an escape!

Whether you are rushing for a flight or have time to kill, the Duty Free section is sure to get in your way or give you an escape!

As smelly, not washed often enough backpackers I’m sure we have all at one point or another felt that we could do with smelling a little sweeter. Bingo. Walking through the perfume section sorts this little problem perfectly. Like many others I always take the opportunity to try out a new scent and see what I think. I certainly don’t buy every time however I do from time to time make a purchase. Choosing the scent to try can depend on several factors. How long you want it to last, whether you go for something totally new or one you know. Perhaps above all it depends on where the shop assistants are located as to which one is easier to get the biggest ‘squirt’ of! The tricks of the trade….

Some Duty Free favourites...

Some Duty Free favourites…

It’s fair to say whilst we assume prices are cheaper, this is not always the case. I recently looked at a Ted Baker set in Boots at a London airport. Eager not to carry it round I searched to see if I could buy it online. To my surprise it was being sold on the Boots website quite a bit cheaper. However most things are ‘duty free’ and indeed less expensive at the airport. This in itself encourages travellers to part with their heard earned cash.  My tip – if you still have lots of time to kill and have your smartphone handy, then double check prices to make sure you really are getting a bargain!

Duty Free champers - these  appeal to The Smart Way Round!

Duty Free champers – these appeal to The Smart Way Round!

For me, the biggest thing airport shopping provides is that feeling of being on holiday. It’s a signal of the beginning, of the excitement that lies ahead. You might not want to buy anything, but with time to kill at an airport it provides a space to wander and stretch the legs. And hey, if yet another MAC eye shadow should fall into my shopping basket then who am I to complain….

– Natalie

Exploring Tuscany and Chianti the fun way – on two wheels of course!

Italy. It has a reputation for good wine, high fashion and romantic scenery. Does it live up to this reputation – absolutely!

Whilst cars and motorbikes can get you to most places, you will find you blink and soon pass some of the sights. I was lucky enough to be involved with co-leading the Exodus ‘Cycle Tuscany and Chianti’ trip last week, alongside the awesome leader Radu. Slowing things down and seeing things from a bike I conclude, is actually the best way to see this stunning region.

Our group of 16 met and became well aquatinted with their two-wheeled friends for a week. With days in the saddle ranging from 50 – 75 kilometres, the group found their pre-trip training came in handy!!!

Keep peddling up the hills!

Keep peddling up the hills!

For the first two days the sun shone and we eased the legs in gently! We had our first introduction to the ‘white roads’ (gravel) and a couple of nice big ‘undulations’… This was to become the word of the trip!  Gelato was on tap as were the wines of the Chianti region. Chianti Classico anyone?

Vineyards as far as the eye could see

Vineyards as far as the eye could see

After a few days in the saddle the group had a well earned break in Siena.  Meanwhile Radu put me through my paces on the bike!  Siena truly is beautiful.  With the magical Campo (main square) and Duomo there were photo opportunities galore! I enjoyed a glass of prosecco on the edge of the Campo with two of our guests. In Italy you never get bored of watching the world go by!!!

Siena - wow

Siena – wow

By the middle of the week the group were back in the saddle again and we entered the Chianti region. Castellina here we came!  At this point it felt like there were vineyards everywhere we looked!  The undulating hills and blue sky backdrop just made the whole area look like a fairy tale.  I managed to fit in a quick swim in quite possibly the best pool I have ever swam in. Pictures didn’t do it justice. Outdoor (of course), the backdrop were vineyards, the town of Castellina and forests. As the sun set I swam up and down trying to take in the tranquility. In amongst a busy week, the ten minute break came at the right time.

Afternoon dip

Afternoon dip

The next few days brought mixed weather but the group became experts at dodging the showers. We made a day trip to San Gimignano. The first 18k from the hotel were downhill…. But of course that made for a nice uphill on the way back!! As usual this ‘medieval Manhattan’ town was bursting at the seams and the queues for the ‘best gelato in Italy’ went on for ages!!!  As usual the support van was on hand with drinks and snacks to help them up the hills on the way back!

Prize-winning gelato!

Prize-winning gelato!

After sampling lots of wine and lots of gelato, the trip continued with a mixture of ups and downs to Florence. As we pulled in you could see the Duomo in distance just waiting to be explored.  What an iconic place to finish! The historical sights awaited….

Above all, the trip was full of great people and was at a pace that was doable for all. With regular snack breaks and photo stops who could not enjoy it?

Snacks and grapes...

Snacks and grapes… 

Tuscany and Chianti really are better off seen on two wheels!

Cheers!

– Natalie

P.S  Heres the link to my flipagram montage – enjoy!

Oktoberfest 2014: Top Day Trips out of Munich

It is now less than two weeks until Oktoberfest begins and if you followed are Pre Oktoberfest Checklist you should hopefully just about be ready to go! While a week-long beer drinking binge sounds good on paper, after a few days of being jammed into the Oktoberfest tents you may be looking to get out-of-town and rest your liver. Below we have listed a number of great day trips all within a couple of hours journey from Munich.

1. Ludwig II’s Fairytale Castles.

‘Mad’ King Ludwig’s castles are the jewels in the crown of Bavarian tourism. Neuschwanstein is the most famous, with an estimated 1.4 million visitors every year. Neuschwanstein was also the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderella castle and has captured the imagination of tourists since the King’s mysterious death in 1886.

The view of Neuschwanstein Castle from Mary's Bridge

The view of Neuschwanstein Castle from Mary’s Bridge

However, while most people flock to Neuschwanstein, his other two castles are equally as impressive. Linderhof, near the famous Bavarian religious town of Oberammergau (also worth a look if you have time) is the only castle Ludwig ever completed. Much smaller than the other two, it is a far easier visit than Neuschwanstein and also doesn’t get the crowds. Nestled amongst the mountains and surrounded by lovely gardens, Linderhof would have to be our favourite of the three.

The smallest and only palace to be completed, Linderhof

The smallest and only palace to be completed, Linderhof

The final castle is situated on an island in Bavaria’s largest lake, the Chiemsee and is situated almost half way between Munich and Salzburg. Herrenchiemsee was built to be a living breathing museum dedicated to Ludwig’s idol, Louis XIV of France. An almost exact replica of the central sections of Versailles, Herrenchiemsee is probably the least visited of the three but has an idyllic location and can only be reached by a boat ride out to the island.

Numerous companies offer day trips from Munich and often combine Neuschwanstein, Linderhof and Oberammergau. If you do go with theses agencies double-check what you are booking, as a lot of the tours DONT include entrances into the castles themselves.

Rear facade of Neuschwanstein

Rear facade of Neuschwanstein

2. Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site

Visiting a concentration camp is not something you will necessarily say you enjoyed, but it is something you will be glad you have experienced. Dachau was the first camp set up in the 1930’s and now days is part memorial and part museum, dedicated to all those who suffered under Hitler’s regime. Getting out there can be a little tricky on public transport, however a number of local tour companies offer trips out to Dachau normally meeting in Marienplatz. We highly recommend the audio guide.

Shadow of the entrance gate into Dachau

Shadow of the entrance gate into Dachau

3. Berchtesgaden and the Eagle’s Nest

According to legend when God was creating the earth he gave all the natural beauty to the angels to distribute evenly around the world. As you can imagine this is a time consuming job. With the angels running behind schedule (he did only give them a week after all), God bellowed out “Hurry up!”, and the angels dropped all the natural wonders in Berchtesgaden.Or so the story goes.

Looking down over Berchtesgaden and the Eagle's Nest

Looking down over Berchtesgaden and the Eagle’s Nest

Approximately two hours from Munich the region of Berchtesgaden is stunningly beautiful. Dramatic mountains, crystal clear lakes and rivers and of course Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest. Specially designed local buses drive you up one of Europe’s most amazing, and somewhat hair-raising roads to the base of the Eagle’s Nest. From here it is a short walk through a tunnel to the original elevator made of polished brass before arriving in the building itself. Eagle’s Nest has a little something for everyone, incredible alpine scenery and photo opportunities for the nature lovers and some very interesting history for the history nerds (like me). Our tip, try to get there early, queues for the buses and the elevator can be very long if the weather is good.

4. Salzburg

The hills are alive! That’s right, after only a two hour train journey you could be yodeling away Julie Andrews style in the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart . Salzburg makes for a great day trip from Munich if for no other reason to just ‘pop’ over the border into Austria.

Salzburg's gorgeous Old Town

Salzburg’s gorgeous Old Town

Combine the imposing Festung or fortress towering over the city and the charming medieval streets and alley ways, Salzburg is a photographer’s dream. There are plenty of sights from ‘The Sound of Music’ to keep you amused or for something totally different head out to Hangar 7, the home of Red Bull. For great views of the old town and fortress head to the Cafe Sacher and enjoy a slice of the famous chocolate cake, Sacher Torte.

Sacher torte, yum!!

Sacher Torte, yum!

There are numerous other possibilities that we haven’t mentioned her as well. Nuremberg has a great old town and huge city walls, while from Garmisch-Partenkirchen you can catch a cable car up to the top of Germany’s highest mountain. If you fancy staying in Munich there are also some great experiences to keep you busy. We love Mike’s Bike Tours, a great way to see loads of the city and have a seriously fun time doing it. You can also hire bikes from them and they also run trips to Neuschwanstein and Salzburg.

Remember (if you haven’t had too much beer), Munich is a great city and so is the surrounding countryside, so make sure you take time out from Oktoberfest and get out there and explore!

– Dean

Prost!

Prost!

 

Our Favourite European Underground Systems

One of the most rewarding challenges of exploring a new city is mastering the local public transport system. In Europe we have them all, the good, the bad and the downright confusing! This week we look at some of our favourite undergrounds from around the continent.

 1. The London Underground

Ok so maybe we are a little biased as it is our hometown, but ‘The Tube’ not only is the oldest underground in the world, one of the most used undergrounds in the world but also regularly voted one of the best undergrounds in the world. All Londoners’ have a love hate relationship with the Tube but without it we would be in a whole world of trouble, just try and get anywhere when there are line closures for maintenance works! In fact it is only when it is shut or not working do we truly realise how much the city relies on it. Best bit of advice, buy an Oyster Card, fares are much cheaper than paying for a paper ticket, oh and don’t forget to ‘Mind The Gap’.

Going underground...

Going underground…

 2. Berlin U-Bahn & S-Bahn

Ever since living in Berlin I have always loved the rail network here. The rickety old carriages rattling along the tracks elevated above the roads below or perhaps trundling through the old ‘Ghost Stations’ from when the city was divided between east and west. When you are riding the Berlin metro it feels like any minute James Bond or Jason Bourne will come bursting through your carriage is some cold war spy drama. Our tip, check out the Mohrenstrasse station, the red marble walls come from Hitler’s former Reich’s Chancellery building, and don’t forget to validate your tickets before jumping on the train it is a hefty fine if you get caught!

One of Berlin's former 'Ghost Stations', closed off during the Cold War and division of the city

One of Berlin’s former ‘Ghost Stations’, closed off during the Cold War and division of the city

 3. Moscow Metro

Difficult, confusing and amazing are just some of the words to describe Moscow’s enormous metro system. Built to showcase the might of the Stalinist Soviet Union, many of the metro stations look like they belong more in a palace than an underground. Finding the right stops can be tricky but rewarding with mosaics of Lenin, space aged themes and a statue of a soldier’s dog whose nose you rub (in the Red Square Metro) but a few treasures awaiting the brave! Our tip, get a good map and learn to read Cyrillic!

Waiting to board the Moscow Metro

Waiting to board the Moscow Metro

One of the many murals showing the strength of the former Soviet Union throughout the Moscow Metro

One of the many murals showing the strength of the former Soviet Union throughout the Moscow Metro

4. Budapest Metro

While not the best metro system in Europe it was the first on the continent, dating back to 1896. The reason we love this underground is the old communist feel when you go underground. Instead of turnstiles ore relying on German honesty, as soon as you validate your ticket at the validation box you are met by a handful of heavy set black clad metro guards demanding to see your validated ticket, (which they have just seen you validate). Then you head to the platform and you can almost guarantee to get checked again or perhaps as soon as the doors of your carriage close a badge is flashed “tickets please” yelled out and you are subjected to another check. Our record? In a three-stop journey we had our ticket checked five times! Better validate that ticket!

Entrance to the Budapest Underground, the oldest underground on the continent

Entrance to the Budapest Underground, the oldest underground on the continent

Do you have a favourite metro or underground in Europe, or better yet do you have a ‘worst’ underground or underground story? If so we would love to hear about it, leave a comment below or drop us a line on Facebook.

 

– Dean