How we spent 2015

Wow, hard to believe we are already into the second week of a brand new year. As our regular readers know, we’ve been away since November on trip to Europe for Christmas and New Year, including a Rhine River cruise, so we haven’t posted since we left. Before we get into regular posts and tell all about our trip we wanted to share what we got up to in 2015 and say Happy New Year.

I hope you had a wonderful New Year’s Eve ringing in 2016 wherever in the world you were. Our NYE was spent in Budapest where we have an amazing evening at a Gala event at our hotel, Novotel Budapest Centrum. Here’s pic of our wonderful meal and we’ll tell all about this and more in our future posts.201553

For us, NYE is not about making resolutions, but a time to reminisce and reflect on the previous year and recall all the wonderful memories we made.

We started our year with a plan to save hard for our trip for six weeks in Europe so our goal was to stay close to home and see as many free local events as possible. This was a success and we took ourselves on a Bus Stop tour checking out some bus stops that are uniquely painted.

We had the most amazing Valentine’s Day this year. But it wasn’t the usual Valentine’s Day spent alone with the love of my life. Attending another free event, we joined some 400,000 people along with the Giants. Not the New York Giants or the Greater Western Sydney Giants, these giants were all the way from France.  Royal de Luxe from Aix en Provence bought two Marionettes here to the City of Perth. The Giants, a 6 metre little girl and her uncle, an 11 metre diver are each controlled by Lilliputians. From there we went to the Convention Centre for the Travel Expo where we have a look around, gather some brochures and information for our end of year trip to Europe and in particular, Paris.  To complete our Valentine’s Day, the evening was spent in our local park for a viewing of Johnny Depp’s movie Chocolat. What a way to spend a fantastic Valentine’s Day with my love, three very special events, tantalising my passion for all things French and best of all, they were all free.

We attended many other free events during the year. Sculptures by the Sea is the world’s largest free to the public sculpture exhibition and was in its 11th year at Cottesloe Beach. There was so many amazing sculptures from National and International artists and this event draws hundreds of thousands of people over the two week period. Promoting awareness to the effect on the natural environment, we came across Intrude.  Five bunnies joining the Perth art scene at home in their new patch on the Perth foreshore at St James Mitchelle Park, these could easily have been forgotten pets from the Giants. These inflatable 7 metre tall illuminated rabbits luring adults and children alike with their presence were created by Amanda Parer.   Foodies flocked to first Perth event of the Night Noodle Markets, an authentic hawker experience where the flavours of Asia were as abundant as the crowds. Fremantle Street Arts Festival was next, showcasing buskers, comedians, musicians, jugglers & street performers, entertaining the crowds for the Easter long weekend. The crowds enjoyed a diverse and eclectic range of free entertainment and family acts. The festival was packed with special events, bursting with verve and colour in true Freo style. The next event wasn’t free, but it did feed Steve’s creative passion and his favourite past time. The Perth Garden Show, WA’s most prestigious garden, landscape and outdoor living event, blossomed on the banks of the Swan River at its new home, McCallum Park. The show had a change of venue last year and was held for the first time at McCallum Park in Victoria Park. We found great speakers, talking about a wide variety of gardening and plant topics. Lots of focus on sustainability and enjoyed the fantastic venue. Mother Nature was very good to us keeping the rain away until the very end of the show.

Another free places we visited that easily occupy a day having relaxing walks are at King’s Park, a huge inner city park, larger than Central Park in New York and one of the largest in the world.  Kings Park is a mix of natural bushland, grassed parklands and botanical gardens and a popular place for over 6 million visitors each year. Kings Park’s location overlooks Perth city and by day boasts panoramic views of the waters of the Swan River and the endless blue skies Perth is renowned for. At night the twinkling lights of the city is a stunning view.  Kings Park is truly a place to admire, discover, enjoy and connect with the environment. Autumn in Araluen was a very special time and a picturesque, peaceful and therapeutic place to stroll in a breathtaking setting in the Darling Ranges only half an hour from the city. Known as Heaven in the Hills, Araluen Botanical Park in the Darling Ranges features a range of exotic and native species of plants and is an extraordinary garden in a breathtaking setting. Such a calm and relaxing spot to get away from the stress of day to day life. It is quite a unique place and one I didn’t realise until going through Dad’s photos after he passed, had meaning to my parents too, when we came across some photos of them taken in 1955 in the Grove of the Unforgotten in the Botanic Gardens.

Fremantle is a favourite place of ours and the Street Art there is unique and vibrant and when we enjoyed a day exploring it the art simply blew us away. We love the vivid colours and the uniqueness of street art on some of the old buildings in Fremantle is nothing short of amazing when used as a canvas. We enjoyed photographing some amazing street art, showcasing we live and being a tourist in our hometown and we could think of nothing better than doing both for free a day in the vibrant culture of Fremantle.

We fed our passion for cruising  when we boarded the Dawn Princess for a 4 day cruise along the south western coast of Australia, from Fremantle to Albany, Busselton and return. This short cruise was a very relaxing, low key cruise and our only holiday until our trip to Europe at the end of the year. Our first day at shore was in the port of Princess Royal Harbour, Albany. Albany offers a lot and the day was cloudy with a few showers, so we went to the Old Gaol, the National Anzac Centre , Heritage Park and of course saw the iconic Dog Rock, a granite rock that looks like the profile of a dog. Our next day was in Busselton, the gateway to Margaret River, one of Western Australia’s best wine regions.  We had to use the tender boats in Geographe Bay but the weather was fine and sunny so our agenda was to visit Margaret River and sample some of her fine offerings. Wines, beers, ciders, chocolate, cheeses and good old fashioned grub were all waiting to be sampled and we did a tour with a local company that could offer a “good day out”.  Our itinerary for the day was full as the Margaret River region has over 100 wineries, 8 breweries, a distiller and 100’s of other attractions well worth a visit so we were happy to be guided by experts like Margies Big Day Out.

I also fed my passion for high tea a few times during the year, attending The High Tea Party with a friend and another with my Mum and Sister at Padbury’s. Padbury’s tables were beautifully set with cloth napkins tied with pretty ribbons, vases of Peonies, floral mix and match of Royal Albert fine bone china, Waterford glassware and 24 carat gold plated cutlery. Our epicurean enchantment began with a delicious selection of handmade savoury treats, followed by some divinely decadent sweets made by the in-house patisserie. The presentation of the many options failed to disappoint and would easily any satisfy gastronomic foodie or cuisine workshipper. We had some great meals out with friends at Rustico’s in Rockingham a few times too. We feel this place is our slice of Spain, enjoying Spanish tapas in a lovely relaxed atmosphere. The staff are extremely welcoming and knowledgeable about the large selection available both on the menu and the specials board, being attentive, polite and friendly. Management of Rustico should be very proud of how their staff manages a busy restaurant, delivering fantastic service. Being tapas the food isn’t bought out all together, allowing time to enjoy each dish. The meals were spectacular, well presented, excellent quality and flavours.  The chefs really know how to present the complete dining experience, providing us a gastronomic showcase of tasty, seasonal produce. Each dish was without fault, there was a lot of love and pride coming from the kitchen and nothing was spared on presentation or flavour. With each visit we are taken on a culinary journey and feel like even when we are not overseas, every mouth watering element of the meal transports us to Costa Brava.

Throughout our travels we have made some great friends and we were happy to welcome friends we met on a European cruise to Perth and show them around. The first friends we took to King’s Park and Swan Valley and the other friends we went to Core Cider House in Bickley.  We also planned to meet another of our friends we met on a New Zealand cruise in Frankfurt for a Rhine River cruise in December. That lead us to planning a six week trip to Europe and started our research on where in Europe we wanted to go.

In March we had the privilege of attending the most special wedding (apart from our own) that we have ever attended. To witness a Mother (and very dear friend) give her only child away was so emotional, especially knowing she faced to get to that point. It was a perfect day, a beautiful young family and such a pleasure to see four generations celebrating and dancing together, at the historic Quindanning Hotel, truly a moment we will never forget.

But it wasn’t all good times. April was a time of reflection, remembering my Dad who left us 5 years ago. Dad is missed everyday, hard to believe it’s been 5 years. In April, another reflection, this time Anzac Day,  when I wrote a personal tribute for my Grandfather to honour the 100 year anniversary of the Gallipoli landing.

Then in May it was with a very heavy heart we said farewell to that same beautiful, strong, independent woman who would do anything for her daughter when her brave battle ended in peaceful and eternal sleep. We will always remember fondly this amazing Mum, especially the pride we saw on her daughter’s wedding day as she walked her down the aisle. In fact we had several of our friends lose loved ones in 2015, parents, partners and even beloved pets, our thoughts were with them all.

Putting the sad times aside, we had some great achievements too. Three ‘awards’ for A Hole in my Shoe were A Very Inspiring Blogger, Premio Dardos and Sisterhood of the World Bloggers awards.  We hit new heights with our reach and engagement on Facebook too and also had our Twitter reach peak at 1.99 million.  Another achievement was to be awarded Silver in Bob’s Top 100 Travel Blogs.

We celebrated our 1 year anniversary of blogging and began to co-host a weekly linkup. This prompted a revamp of our website, a new banner/logo which meant new business cards and was the perfect time to begin the task of pitching for our upcoming European trip. Our pitch was well received and we were sponsored by Accor Hotels. We had fun planning our trip, preparing for Christmas in Europe to visit 13 countries and explore the Christmas markets.  We had even more fun during the trip.

In an attempt to save for our trip we hadn’t been to a stage show since last NYE when we saw Les Miserables. So as a surprise for Steve’s birthday we got tickets and enjoyed the performance of Wicked, our only show we saw for the year.  October also saw us say goodbye to a dear friend who was relocating to the other side of our vast country. She came and stayed with us for her last few days and we spent some fun times, seeing last minute places, took time for some retails therapy and ate at some wonderful places. Three months already since we saw her beautiful face, but hopefully we will find a way to share some time together during 2016.

In November we were concerned the Paris shootings would mar our plans for our travel to Paris. It was a shock to learn the beautiful city we planned to revisit in 7 days had experienced devastating terror attacks. But after assessing the situation, taking into account our family’s concern, we decided we would stand by Paris and continue with our plans.

Most of these places or events were spent with our friends. For us, the best parts of 2015 regardless of where we are, are the friendships we share, not just our personal friends, but also the online friends and fellow bloggers who come and visit our blog and interact on our social media pages. Thank you for all we have shared and all we are yet to share.

Please come back regularly to read all about our European trip as we post our stories. Join us each week to read about all the wonderful places we saw in Europe and feel free to leave a comment and share our stories with your friends and family.  We look forward to your interaction during 2016 as we take one step closer to our next big adventure.

Now your turn, tell us about your year, did you achieve any major goals or travel to any interesting places?

If so, please leave a comment below. We’d love if you would follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or click the StumbleUpon button or other social media share buttons below to share this post.

Our first blogiversary

Today is a milestone for A Hole in my Shoe because it was one year ago that we launched our blog and began this exciting journey. So for our first Blogiversary instead of celebrating with cake and candles, we would like to reflect and thank everyone who has helped us along the way.

The journey began with our first post, appropriately about my first trip overseas, to Bali. As one of the 10 places in South East Asia we have visited, Bali is an ideal first time travel experience for many people from Perth. In my usual style I researched and prepared for the trip. My thirst for Bali began in school so I decided a good grounding would be to learn the language. Little did I know due to all the curves in the road ahead it would take me another twenty or so years until I finally boarded the plane and arrive on the tarmac in Denpasar. But it was love at first sight and I returned again, taking three trips in three years. Over the years, although my life changed, my passion for Bali didn’t diminish. Finally after 17 years I returned and had some wonderful experiences revisiting Kamandalu Ubud and the many experiences of bartering, catching taxis and eating in Bali. Bali is in our 5 top destinations and has such beautiful scenery. When we got beyond the beer and beaches of Kuta we witnessed a very special ceremony.

Another regular feature on our blog is food and we shared some of the best high teas in Perth, a quaint restaurant with colonial charm, a very uniquely brewed coffee in Bali, a cake for music lovers, some Australian cuisine and my all time favourite icon, Vegemite. Probably our favourite food experience to write about was our morning in Montmarte where we had the pleasure of baking with a true artisan. I will never forget the aroma and flavour of freshly baked baguettes.

As many of you know Steve and I enjoy cruising and we have shared a few cruising experiences with you. From our first cruising experience on our honeymoon, to the trip of a lifetime, a Grand Mediterranean cruise from Barcelona to Venice. We shared our excitement of the inaugural season on the brand new Royal Princess and some tips on what to expect once you book a cruise and how to see the sights and save money.

From a Singapore Sling to a walk through the Gardens by the Bay, Singapore is another of our favourite places that has made a few mentions. Without a doubt, the place that holds the most special memories is Europe. From a morning on the Cote d‘Azur, the cliché of Paris, the landmarks under repair, getting lost in Prague to the quaintness of Bratislava. Vienna was a very beautiful and cultural city and we enjoyed a special concert at the Musikverein. One of the most unique experiences in Europe was the Changing of the Guards in Athens, watching the statuesque Evzones and their highly stylized march was impressive.

To help boost our audience we have also had some awesome contributions from some inspirational guest bloggers. Scott Archer kindly wrote our first guest post on something passionate to him, Top 5 Turkish cuisine. Then the lovely Janine Marsh from The Good Life France wrote about the wonderful little French town, Sancerre. Anda Galffy from Travel Notes and Beyond presented a beautiful translation of her photography and the explosion of the colours of Connecticut. Jess Signut from Tripelio combined her passion for travel and creative thinking with How to Survive an Airport Layover. Wished we had read this before had a 10 hour layover in Doha a few years back. Finally we featured Mark Bunce from ParcelHero who could have saved us a fortune in excess baggage fees and the cost of sending a case from Vienna to Perth having read his How to avoid excess baggage.

As bloggers we have also contributed to fellow bloggers collaborations and guest posts. Our guest posts have included Singapore Sling on Flycruisestay, 10 Steps to Lighter Luggage on The Travel Accessory Store, How we saved money on travel on Frugal First Class Travel and Behind the Scenes in Montmartre and A Day on the Cote d’Azure Franc on The Good Life France. Our first interview was This V’s That Thursday by Monica and Jon from We Travel Together, Bucketlist Wednesday by Wandering Wanderluster and interviewed by Anda from Travel Notes & Beyond.

Next collaborations, Monument Monday and our submission, the Statue of Emperor Francis of Austria, on Country Hopping Couple’s travel blog. Crazzzy Travel hosted a collaboration, Romantic Budget Getaways Part III where we wrote about one of our favourite getaways, Margaret River. We were lucky enough to participate twice on Travelling Buzz with Delicious Food from Around the World submitting our favourite, a roast dinner and 25 Perfect Weekend Getaways in Europe with our submission Barcelona. Keep your eye out for our latest contribution to a collaboration, this time Europe from above, a collaboration yet to be published, hosted by The Trusted Traveller.

Following are the awards we are very thankful to have received to date. Two months after starting the blog we were surprised to find we had been nominated by Simon and Gina from Our Global Adventure for our first award, a Liebster Award. We have since received two further nominations from Travelling Buzz and Wanderlustem. In June we received our second nomination for an award, this time from Penny from Travelling Penster, The Versatile Blogger Award and another three nominations from Travel Notes & Beyond, Lubink and I’m Our of the Office. 2015 started well with a nomination from Vasudha from Travel Defined for A Very Inspiring Blogger Award and a nomination from Samiya from Selims Raasta for a Premio Dardos an award for recognition of cultural, ethical, literary and person values in the form of creative and original writing. But the one that was the biggest surprise was Blog of the Week in August when Andrew Moore from Sydney radio 2GB interviewed me on the “Wake Up Australia” morning show.

Here are our top 5 blogs based on page views;

[one_half padding=”0 0 0 200px”]Barcelona – I’m not that into you[/one_half][one_half_last padding=”0 50px 0 100px”]508 [/one_half_last]

[one_half padding=”0 0 0 200px”]Morning in Montmartre[/one_half] [one_half_last padding=”0 50px 0 100px”]494[/one_half_last]

[one_half padding=”0 0 0 200px”]A Tale of Two Cities, Budapest Tourist Guide[/one_half] [one_half_last padding=”0 50px 0 100px”]472[/one_half_last]

[one_half padding=”0 0 0 200px”]Behind the Scenes on Dawn Princess[/one_half] [one_half_last padding=”0 50px 0 100px”]364[/one_half_last]

[one_half padding=”0 0 0 200px”]Cutting Costs and on a Cruise[/one_half] [one_half_last padding=”0 50px 0 100px”]328[/one_half_last]

Our top 5 blog posts based on interaction from comments posted are Bali, Beyond Beer & Beaches, Morning in Montmartre, A Tale of Two Cities, Budapest Tourist Guide, Oh Vienna and So you’ve booked a cruise, now what?

Sorry if this was a longer than usual post but we wanted to express our sincere thanks to each and every person for their support, assistance, inspiration and guidance. Thank you to our friends and family for listening to our stories and giving us moral support, for being our sounding board and allowing us to photograph their meal before allowing them to take the first bite. Thanks to the supportive blogging community for your inspiration, assistance and feedback  and to everyone who has read, commented, liked and shared our posts, whether it be week after week or just once.  We are now regularly getting visits by over 2,000 people per month and with your support that number will continue to grow. Please continue to give us your feedback, ask us questions, comment on our posts and share our pages within your circle of friends and family. If you haven’t already please follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Trover, Google+, StumbleUpon, Klout, Bloglovin and subscribe to our page for updates.

So where to next? Well in two weeks we are off for a little rejuvenation, a short 4 day cruise along the coast of Western Australia, so stay tuned for some photos from down under. Our next big adventure is Europe at the end of the year. This is still work in progress, but we have confirmed another 4 day cruise, this time a journey along the Rhine River from Frankfurt to Basel, Switzerland. If anyone has any suggestions on places we should experience in late November, December and early January, please leave us a message in the comments below.

We’d like to celebrate our milestone with the announcement of an exciting opportunity commencing next week. Thanks to an invitation Anda from Travel Notes & Beyond, we have been invited to join her and three other inspiring bloggers to co-host a weekly blog link-up #TheWeeklyPostcard.

Update: This was an interesting journey, we learnt a lot about people and blogging. Within the first year 3 hosts left and we found ourselves bringing 3 new hosts into the group and soon after my association with the linkup also came to an end. We ventured into linkups not knowing what to expect or where this would take us, interacting with people and learning a lot.

Our blog has evolved from an idea sparked when listening to an interview from Travel with Bender on Perth’s current affairs show Today Tonight. Our blog has provided us great satisfaction and hopefully some inspiration to others to travel, enjoy the world we live in and realise it is never too late change direction.

Royal Princess, Grand Mediterranean

We booked the last sailing on the inaugural 12 day Grand Mediterranean itinerary and had time in Europe for both before and after the cruise.

Princess Cruise Line provided one of the best itineraries and this voyage did not disappoint.  There were no problems incurred like the week before when they could not retrieve the anchor in Mykonos.

Ready for departure in Barcelona

Ready to board in Barcelona

The sailaway on deck

The sailaway on deck

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We boarded promptly in Barcelona and our itinerary including the ports of Toulon, Florence, Rome, Naples, Mykonos, Istanbul, Kusadasi and Athens. After an overnight stay onboard, we would be disembarking in Venice.

This was a very busy itinerary, with few days at sea and lots of exploration time and can get a bit tiring, particularly if you choose excursions including lots of walking through ruins. We loved the destinations!

First port of Toulon

First port of Toulon

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The ports were great. We did one “Princess Shore excursion” at Toulon and really enjoyed the experience, it was run very well.  The Amalfi coast and Pompeii was one of the best shore excursions we have ever been on. We had an amazing guide, and found this tour very good value.

The itinerary allowed us to see sights and places we had only dreamed about, Cote D’Azur, Leaning tower of Pisa, the Vatican, Trevi Fountain, Colosseum, Amalfi coast, Pompeii, Vesuvius, Grand Bazaar, Acropolis and many more.  It was a sight to behold but very strenuous, so be sure to wear comfortable rubber soled shoes so as not to slip on the marble and cobblestone ground. This was the inception for “A Hole In My Shoe”. We also loved the actual cruising, although with the itinerary being so port intensive we didn’t get much opportunity for relaxing out on our balcony with a glass of wine.

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grand mediterranean 12

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The Captain decided to bypass Kusadasi port due to high winds,  much better to be safe than sorry and I understand all who had Princess tours were refunded charges. Overall it was a great trip and we had a wonderful time.

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The sail in to Venice was amazing, very emotional with Pavarotti playing on the ship’s speakers creating the perfect atmosphere for our first glimpses of this beautiful city.  We stayed on the ship overnight before disembarking the next day. Once in Venice, they conveniently charged $15 per person to our account for a round trip direct water taxi to St Marks square but you could go to the desk to have them remove this fee if you didn’t want to use it.

Sailing into Venice

Sailing into Venice

Arrived safety at our destination, Venice

Arrived safety at our destination, Venice

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Princess arranged for our luggage to be taken direct to our hotel and used the people mover to get to the closest point to our hotel. We had decided the day before when we wandered through Venice that we would spend our first day to take a vaporetto to Murano & Burano which was lovely and we thought was well worth the visit.  We loved Venice, not a cheap place but not as expensive as we were expecting.

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Waiting for us whilst in Mykonos

Waiting for us whilst in Mykonos

If you can afford the time, build in extra time at each end. Barcelona and Venice are both worth some extra time.

This itinerary was port intensive and the two sea days were much appreciated and it was an outstanding cruise. We experienced some wet weather and the ports were crowded but we did expect this at this time of year.

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Mmm cocktail time

Mmm cocktail time

We have been back home for a week now and we are still in post cruise blues wishing we were back on the wonderful Royal Princess.

Thank you Princess you made our dream holiday come true!

Is this cruise on you buckets list? Have you cruised this itinerary? We’d love to read your comments below?

*All opinions and photos are our own and we were not financially compensated for this post.

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