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

“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!

Essential Guide to German Christmas Market Food

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…


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!


Enjoying a mug with my Dad in Cologne


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.


And this is a small one!


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


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!


Does Christmas food get any better than chocolate covered fruit?


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.


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!


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

Oh and did we mention Glühwein?!

Merry Christmas everyone


Ampelmann: East Berlin’s Cold War Hero

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


Most of all enjoy!

Most of all enjoy!

– Dean

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!

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


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)

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

Would you like ham with your cheese sandwich?

When you think of Cuba you think of old cars, cigars, beaches, rum…. I could go on.  The one thing it isn’t famous for is its culinary experiences.  Since 1962 Cubans have been entitled to a Libreta de Abastecimiento (“Supplies booklet”).  This acts as a modern day ration book and the Government sets out what people pay for produce and how much they are allowed.  Prior to 1991, even children’s toys were rationed in this way.  Thankfully for the children of Cuba this is no longer the case.

As a traveller in Cuba, you don’t have to stick to such allocations; however those looking for a McDonald’s destination should go elsewhere. As much as I love McDonalds (everyone has a guilty secret) I would be dead against them setting up in Cuba.  The only amendment to that is there is one branch (just one) in Cuba.  It is situated within the US Naval base at Guantanamo Bay and serves as an outlet for the US forces based there.  For those not in the military, the whole area is firmly out of bounds – more about that another time.

Fresh fruit, yum!

Fresh fruit, yum!

So food.  What can you expect?  Breakfast tends to include the mandatory bread (white fluffy only) and eggs.  Sometimes juice is available and if you are really lucky, fruit.  Pineapple, guava or papaya were the fruits of the day whilst we were there, but on rare occasions we also found banana and pineapple.  Lunches, its fair to say, are a simple affair.  One day you can have ham and cheese sandwiches, maybe the next just cheese sandwiches.  If you are lucky you might find some espagetti napolitana (spaghetti in tomato sauce) or even a ham and cheese pizza.  Then you go back to ham and cheese sandwiches.  Quite often a restaurant may have a large menu but in reality all they really have are these four combinations. Get the picture?  You have to hope you like ham, or cheese or both!

Banana chips, a staple of most meals

Banana chips, a staple of most meals

In the evening one of the best places to eat is at your Casa Particular – home stays.  They are easy to arrange and the casa ladies are only too happy to cook you a home cooked meal (in exchange for about US$7).  Normally you will be treated to a feast of soup, fried plantain (my personal favourite) bean rice, and then a wide array of fish, or some basic grilled (often a little tough) meat.  If you were really lucky you could be offered ‘flan’ (a kind of crème caramel) for pudding.  Restaurants often offered a good choice of fish and shell fish.  If it swims (or crawls) in the sea then as a diver I’m on my soapbox and not an eater, but Dean, by all accounts, had some lovely lobster along the way.  Food doesn’t vary that much across the country, although in Baracoa (one of the eastern most cities) things are mixed up a bit and you get a wonderful coconut sauce with meat and fish.

The meals in the home stays are normally very tasty and huge

The meals in the home stays are normally very tasty and huge

On one of our favourite evenings Dean and I wondered out and ate al fresco with the locals.  It was a Saturday night in Holguin and the street fiesta was in full swing (a weekly affair).  There were more pigs on spit roasts than I could count on my hands and feet together, and everyone was in a joyous mood.  We queued up, picked out fancy-laced restaurant and set about ordering.  Pig, chicken, banana chips and bean rice – all with change from a couple of dollars.  Granted the chicken looked a little (there was blood!) undercooked for me, so I dutifully donated it to my husband who is (thankfully) still alive to tell the tale!  The meal was beautiful though and a wonderful experience.

Street food pop up restaurants Cuban style

Street food pop up restaurants Cuban style

Above all eating in Cuba is never going to make you fat!  The food is wholesome, healthy and fills a gap.  You will struggle to find the array of snacks we are used to in the western world (remember we are not talking about in the resorts here – I don’t know what they have but I suspect it’s an artificial home away from home) but there is something really lovely about that.  Who needs Walkers crisps or branded Coca Cola?  When in Rome do as the Romans.  Choices are limited, but embrace them and remember not to overdose on the ham and cheese sarnies…

– Natalie

The Legend of Lalo Bravo

One of the great things about travelling is some of the characters you meet along the way. People from your adventures linger in your mind long after you return home, and a rare select few may even pass into travel folk law or legend status.

Such is the legend that is Lalo Bravo.

However before we meet the lead character we must Quentin Tarantino our story back to the day before…

It was our final day in Santiago de Chile. The last rays of afternoon sun were falling across our picturesque square as my friend Todd aka Pocket and I were enjoying a few glasses of red. Tonight we would  board an overnight local bus down to the mountain resort of Pucón.

Ahhh Chilean Red!

Ahhh Chilean Red!

Before we knew it we were engaged in conversation (in Spanish) with an elderly gentleman who proceeded to tell us how he was a former soldier in Pinochet’s dictatorship and all the nationalities he had killed during his years of service. When we told him we were Australian he looked off into nowhere, his eyes glazed over and me muttered almost remorsefully ‘I never did kill an Australian’.

Wow look at the time! We paid the bill, respectfully bade our farewells, scampered back to the hostel and headed off to catch our overnight bus. If this chance meeting was anything to go by Chile was going to be interesting. Pucón here we come!

You never know who you will meet in the leafy squares of Santiago

You never know who you will meet in the leafy squares of Santiago

For those of you who have never caught a bus around South America believe me they are an experience. In fact they could be subject of a blog all by themselves! One thing was quite common though, most would play incredibly loud Hollywood action movies. You could almost guarantee it would be Sly Stallone, Steven Seagal or perhaps Wesley Snipes serenading you to sleep each night.

So after a fitful semi-nights sleep we pulled into Pucón just as the sun started to break over the mountains. There waiting for his unsuspecting victims was Lalo Bravo.

Lalo was about five foot six, relatively skinny, short black hair with a pencil thin moustache and spoke in a shrill excited high pitched voice. He was a gittery character and not to sound stereotyped he kind of reminded us of the cartoon character Speedy Gonzales.

Dazed and confused after dreams punctuated by gunfire and bad Wesley Snipes one liners he convinced us his hostel was just around the corner and it had the best rates in town. What did we have to lose? We followed Lalo as he talked a million miles an hour about all the things one could do in Pucón. As we approached his hostel he informed us the hostel was actually full but there were a couple of rooms available in his house.

As we entered his home we were greeted by a bright blue lounge covered in old vinyl records, “I have my own music tv show and sketch comedy show” he said. We later found out the majority of the show was filled with racist and derogatory sketches about the local Peruvian community! We were shown the room which was clean and reasonably large, the price was also good, a special deal because we were not in the hostel proper. If anything bunking in with Lalo was going to be an experience so we happily agreed to stay.

The lounge / broadcasting studio

The lounge / broadcasting studio

There was an Australian couple in the next room who were apparently really nice he told us, but you don’t see them very often. He was right. During our stay we only saw them once, one morning where neither of them spoke to us or each other, however we heard them every night arguing, screaming and throwing things at each other. Apparently their dream South American adventure was not working out as they had hoped!

After settling in and Lalo returned with breakfast things started to get interesting. It turned out he was also the local journalist and proceeded to show us his impressive website (the sun bursts and a solar flare circling the world until it reached Pucón was a little much we thought) and informed us there had been a spate of arson attacks in town. Now most of the historic buildings were made of wood but the fire department were pretty useless, in fact over the past several weeks he had arrived at the scene of each fire about 10-15 minutes before the fire crews had arrived!

The wooden village and the volcano that towers over the town

The wooden village and the volcano that towers that dwarves it

We patiently sat through every fire video he had “reported” on before attempting to make our escape. Tomorrow we wanted to climb the snow covered volcano of  Villarrica that towers over the town. Lalo told us to source out one company in particular, they were the best, had the highest quality equipment and he knew the guys who ran it.

“Mention my name and you will get the respect” Lalo told us. “What’s my name?” he asked, “Lalo” we replied, “No, no, no Lalo Bravo, remember my name you get the respect, now what’s my name?”, “Lalo Bravo!” we (fake) excitedly proclaimed, “That’s right! Remember my name you get the respect!”. This went on repeatedly for several minutes (yes the same sentences over and over) and reminded me of some sales team self help class where we all stood around pumping each other up and slapping each other on the back.

Convinced the mere mention of the legendary Lalo Bravo’s name throughout the town would see locals bow down in front of us, slash their prices and generally throw rose petals reverently at our feet we strolled into the town centre heads held high, first stop, the climbing company.

We discussed the plan, agreed to ascend Villarrica the following day and then we were asked where we were staying.

Chests pumped out we proudly announced, “We are staying with Lalo Bravo”.

Insert silence here and crickets being heard in the background.

“With who?”

“With, ah, umm, Lalo err Bravo?”, we were losing our nerve.


After a rather uneasy few seconds and eye contact shifting from one person to another like a western showdown the atmosphere was broken with…. laughter! What could we do? So we laughed. Ah yes local ‘celebrity’ Lalo Bravo, no discounts, no respect just the look of pity from the guys at the climbing shop. We paid up (full price) and continued to explore town safe in the knowledge we would not be dropping Lalo’s name again.

We returned back to the house and excitedly Lalo asked what we were planning to do. When we told him we were climbing the mountain, and confirmed we went to the company he recommended we were then asked did they give us a good deal. Well, kind of, we paid the advertised price. “What?! Did you mention my name?”, we informed him we had, “What name did you give him?” he asked incredulously. “Lalo Bravo”, “That’s right and you get the respect!”, he was outraged, so much so he stormed out of the house. He later told us there had been a ‘breaking story’ regarding the local mayor and an affair.

The following morning (after again not getting much sleep due to the fighting couple next door) we were picked up at the crack of dawn with the climbing team chuckling all the way to the mountain about the fact we were staying with Lalo. By now we saw the funny side and joined in, the laughs at his expense lasted all day.

A difficult climb to the top of the volcano

Upon our return we happened to walk in on the ‘filming’ of his television show, it would appear that you can broadcast anything in Chile!

After several days in Lalo’s company it was time to move on. However Lalo and that journey from Santiago was already taking on mythical status. In fact even today some seven years on anytime South America and Chile come up in conversation Pocket and I almost instinctively fall into Lalo mode. Imitating his voice, the phrase “Mention my name, you get the respect” has become the stuff of legend. Sure Machu Picchu was incredible, Foz do Iguaçu is something we will never forget, and the opportunity to visit Antarctica is a one in a lifetime chance, but South America will always be remembered for one man, the over the top, self grandizing and possible arsonist that is Lalo Bravo!

– Dean

ps Sadly we don’t have a photo of Lalo, such is the mystery surrounding him. Lalo is still going strong (and apparently never been found guilty of arson) and Hostal Bravo is now quite highly rated, who would have thought!