In search of snow

Our last day in Europe, after six weeks in search of snow was spent in Belgrade. We had been travelling on our Eurail Global Pass throughout Europe, visiting Christmas markets, enjoying a Rhine River cruise and wishing and hoping for a white Christmas. We had left behind the hot Australian summer and more than anything we wanted was to see it snow.

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We had experienced some chilly weather along the way which saw us rugged up with our thermals, scarves and gloves more than once. But we had not seen any snow 🙁 Starting off in Paris in November, it was cold, but very sunny most days. We then travelled to Brussels, Bruges, Antwerp, Luxembourg, Amsterdam, Cologne and Frankfurt. All pretty, cold and had a few days of light rain here and there, but still no show. In Frankfurt we were greeted with a bright, sunny room and told they were having the hottest winter in 100 years, which was great, but not what we wanted to hear. The final day in Frankfurt was very foggy as we made our way with Avalon Waterways along the Rhine River to Heidelberg, Mannheim, Speyer, Strasbourg, Obernai, Breisach, a Black Forest tour and onto Colmar.

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We visited some beautiful places, fortified walled towns, half timbered houses and enjoyed delicious French pastries, drank lots of warming gluewein, and ate stolen. We sipped wines in a typical Alsation wine cellar and drove through the cold but very picturesque Black Forest to visit an authentic sixth generation Cuckoo clock maker at work. There we sipped cherry wine, ate Black Forest cake and watched the wonderful craft of wood carving. Our final stop on the cruise was Basel. Finally in Switzerland we were convinced we would experience a winter wonderland. But no. From Basel we ventured to Berne and Zurich, Lucerne and Chur where we boarded the famous Bernina Express.  We thought this would be a sure thing to see lots of fluffy white snow capped mountains, but even the ski slopes we passed had barely any snow and they were concerned to keep their tourism alive during the unseasonally warm winter.

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From Tirano we travelled to Milan for an overnight stopover and onto Salzburg via Innsbruck. Despite the lack of snow in the hills of Austria we weren’t let down with lots of fun on a Sound of Music tour. After a few days in Salzburg it was onto Ljubljana for a few days, travelling onto Vienna where we would spend Christmas. We were told our hopes for a White Christmas were doubtful and although quite cold, there was no forecast for snow. We made our way to Prague and then Budapest via Bratislava in time for a low of -11c for New Year’s Eve. It was bitterly cold there, but you guessed it, no snow.

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Our final stop was a quick stopover in Belgrade before flying back home to warm and sunny Perth. The journey from Budapest to Belgrade was an exhausting eight hour train trip, with no toilets onboard and we were not permitted to get off the train at the border checkpoint. Finally, just on dusk we arrived at Novi Beograd station tired and showing signs of forty days of travel having taken it’s toll. We had checked our phone for the forecast and were clearly not getting our hopes up, despite it showing -16c there was only a 30% chance of snow.

This was our best odds in the last six weeks. As we were approaching the station we could see what we later learnt was a very light snow flurry. We were in oblivion at first, seeing what we first thought was dust blowing about. But this soon turned to excitement, much to the locals’ amusement. We were in our element to see our closest chance of real snow before we depart Europe to return to the heat of Australian summer. I’d seen snow on the ground twice before, but I’d never seen it snow. It was so beautiful and amazing, I felt like a child exploding with excitement. After checking into the Courtyard by Marriott hotel we wandered around for an hour or so in the very light flurry, which was barely more than very light rain. But we were content. We had seen it snow. We went back to the hotel restaurant and had a wonderful meal. Was it the Beef Bourguignon warming me with each bite as we sat and watched the weather outside? No, it was that we had finally fulfilled our desire to see it snow, as light as it was, we were satisfied to have finally, on our last night, seen a little snow falling.

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Next morning we were super excited, as I pulled back the curtains we were amazed at what we saw. The pavements were white, the streets covered in dirty sludge, we had woken to a snow shower. The flurry from last night continued through the night and had got a little heavier.

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Quickly we made our way outside, donning our heavy winter jacket, wool lined boots, gloves, etc. It was beautiful, white fluffy snow and such a pretty sight and a moment we will never forget. The hotel staff were scattering salt to melt the snow, the snow trucks were going along the streets clearing the snow and the people were scarce. Except for us. We were in winter wonderland, mesmerized by the vision of pure white snow. It was my first time seeing the little flakes floating down. It was really cold outside, every step I took I was crunching the snow on the pavement and feeling the sharp little flakes hitting my cheeks.  After six weeks, many in negative degrees, temperatures I had never experienced before, we were finally rewarded with snow.

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It was a great opportunity to wander around, appreciate the beauty of snow and take some photos. Everything was covered in white flakes, it was so beautiful and definitely a highlight for us and a moment in time we will remember forever. For an Australian in my 50’s who has never seen it snow before, this trip to Belgrade will be an experience of a lifetime. Steve wandered around for about four hours, rekindling his British childhood. Belgrade was simply breathtaking and our wish had been granted, just hours before we were due to depart.

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I have to say winter in Europe is beautiful, but when it snowed in Belgrade it was truly magical.

Seeing it snow for the first time was a really awesome experience. Have you seen it snow? What was your first time like?

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What to see and where to stay in Basel

Basel is the entry point to Switzerland for many travellers, either coming from France or Germany or a quite popular first or final stop for a Rhine River cruise. After hearing another blogger label the city boring our expectations for Basel were not high. For us the end of our 4 day Avalon Rhine River cruise in Basel would be the first time we set foot on Swiss soil. Bordering on France’s Alsace region and Germany and being Switzerland’s third largest city, we decided to spend some time there and see for ourselves just what this cultural city has to offer. But after all the plush, quality comforts of a river cruise we wondered if the hotel would live up to the standards of the cruise we had just disembarked. We arrived at Novotel Basel City Hotel after a short taxi ride from the port and our check in was very friendly and efficient. The person at the front desk was joking with us as we were promptly given card and directions to our room. As we entered our Executive Room our concerns regarding comfort were dismissed. Although minimalist the room had a warm, welcoming feel.

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Basel03In addition to the very large and comfortable bed with high quality linen, flat screen TV, mini bar, Nespresso machine, etc we were provided slippers and a luxurious robe. This was a very spacious and contemporary room, almost brand new with a very quirky feature. The glass divider in the wall between the bathroom and bedroom was made of switchglass which changes from frosted to clear with the touch of a button.

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The bathroom itself was a good size and spotlessly clean with oversized doors to the bathroom and separate toilet. The bathroom featured a large shower with rain head and separate bathtub. The vanity was a good size with a variety of Fair Trade toiletries from Bolivia, Mauritius and Kenya.

After making ourselves at home we went downstairs to the GourmetBar for a relaxing coffee, served Swiss style with a shot glass of water, cubed white brown sugar and a cookie.

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At check in we were provided with a mobility tickets for free transport on the bus, tram or trains within Basel for the duration of our trip and after our coffee we ventured off to check out the city. The public transport runs with Swiss precision, is frequent and efficient making getting from the hotel into the city centre quick and comfortable.

Within 15 minutes we arrived in the city centre, lined with cobblestoned streets, inviting cafes, and one of the main landmarks dominates the skyline. The MĂźnster cathedral with its prominent red sandstone, dual spired towers with the brightly coloured tiles, sits upon the highest point in the spacious MĂźnsterplatz.

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Nearby we came across another beautiful building, this time in Markplatz. The 500 year old grand and imposing Basel Town Hall, a beautiful red building in the centre of the market centre.  One of Basel’s most attractive landmarks you can’t help but marvel at the glorious beauty. Painted with the Swiss coat of arms, imagery of Medieval Swiss warriors and adorned with assorted stained glass windows this is truly a sight to behold. The market area is filled with tourists and locals alike buying and sampling products from nearby France and Germany and local Swiss cheeses, breads, fruits and vegetables. The aromas of roasting chestnuts and colours of fruits and vegetable offers temptation at every turn.

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Another of the wonders that took my eye nearby was in the quiet streets of Old Town Basel. Wandering around we turned a corner to came across this massive mural depicting many Rock Legends such as P!nk, Bob Marley, Keith Richard, Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Madonna and more. The design integrates the legendary Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover, Billy Joel, Amy Winehouse, Freddie Mercury, Janis Joplin, David Bowie and Ozzie Osborne. See if you can recognize any others. Wow, this is such a contrast to some of the other areas of town, it is so brightly coloured and I am awe identifying all the legends.

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Basel is definitely spoiled for choice and far from boring. From the picturesque streets of the historic centre, the cosy places, to the magnificent buildings and of course how could we not mention those slabs of Swiss chocolate, full of fruits and nuts. Yes, we allowed ourselves to be enchanted by the charm of Basel, especially at Christmas.

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Basel was a great way to complete our wonderful river cruise and get ready for the final three weeks of our special #EuropeanChristmasDiscovery trip and we appreciate AccorHotel’s assistance in hosting our stay in Basel.

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We’d love to read your comments below. Have you been to Basel? Did you find it full of delight like we did?

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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?

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