19. Venice // Italy

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Known to the West as Venice, to the Italians as Venezia and to the goofy traveller trying to pronounce Italian (Ok, I mean myself) Venitchy, we came to know this magical city like it was straight from a fairytale. As you may recall from the movie The Italian Job, which stars Mark Walbherg, Edward Norton and Charlize Theron, Venice is built on swamp land and survives on canals. There are no roads, bikes or subways. Just “gondola, gondala’s.” And you can only enter it through one of a few ways. We arrived by train from Verona, crossing over the thin stretch of track that connects mainland Italy to this small collection of islands and pulled up at the end of the line, the train station, which basically doubles as the doorway into this surreal world.

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Trouble struck me early however. As I was in desperate need to get some Florins so I could afford a new cape, some guards saw me pickpocket an unknowing, elderly man. In my hast, I was unable to find a group of courtesans to distract them so I had to sprint urgently through the thin laneways to avoid this pack of chasing officials. Bumping and tripping as I went, it seemed my only escape was through the canals. I dropped my long sword and climbed the nearest tower. As an eagle accompanied me from the top, I performed a Leap of Faith and plummeted into the waters below, leaving my searching enemies scratching their heads and screaming out “Ezio!!”

There’s probably only a handful of people, such as Justin, Leeroy and Jamie, who know what I’m referring to. I am of course speaking about Assassins Creed II, which was partly set in Venice. The exciting part about this was I was finally standing in a city I felt I had already thoroughly explored through my exploits in this game. On more than one occasion, Elisha heard me say “I’m pretty certain I’ve climbed up that building before . . . yes, yes. I’ve definitely scaled that one before – that’s a definite.” And whilst I struggled with differentiating reality from my previous existence in a video game, memories of numerous battles flooded back as both Elisha and I stood out the front of the Piazza di San Marco. Needless to say, whilst Elisha thought of herself as a finely dressed lady in the Renaissance period, I thought of myself as this:

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Originally, we had directed our travel path toward Venice on the promise Stu had some free accommodation organised for two nights for us. But with a lifestyle that contained no plans and an empty itinerary, we thought two nights would just not do. Elisha is a phenomenal planner and jumped online to see what she could find. Venitchy is exceptionally expensive at the best of times and we decided to screw the budget for the few days we planned to be there. Elisha struck gold though and found a room on the island for about $140 AUD a night which she then later found on another website for twice the price! We also decided it was better to spend this to be on the actual island as the alternative is to stay about an hour out on the mainland to save maybe half of that but to then have to pay it anyway just to catch a ferry over. And so we booked two nights prior to us joining Stu.

Upon arriving, Elisha wasted no time and jumped online to suss out where all the boutique eateries might be, where the best gelato was to be found and where we could dig our teeth into some authentic pizza whilst at the same time avoiding all the tourist traps that were likely to exist in a place like this. We of course expected Venice to be something like Bruges in that it would attract millions of tourists each year (up to 20 million in fact, that’s right – all of Australia on one tiny island and you claim that we’re full) and would have a hidden “Tourist Tax” on everything that you purchased. To our surprise, we found a lot of things remarkably cheap! Examples being gelato was very often 1.5 Euro, pizza was about 7 Euro and Spritz (Oh how excited you can get at spritz time) was about 2.5 Euro. Knowing full well that you can’t eat gelato or drink an aperitif in Australia for that cheap, please buckle in and prepare yourself to hear us mention both of those numerous times throughout the remainder of this blog.

Our first afternoon saw us very tentatively explore the maze of laneways that form Venice, our eyes regularly searching for the little blue GPS dot on our phones so as not to get lost. The city is so magical and historic, you can almost still hear the whispers around corners where assassinations were plotted and planned in quiet and dark places. Although now of course all you hear is the sound of iPad’s snapping terrible photos and all you do is sidestep tourists trying to do the exact same thing. After some initial exploring, we settled on the bank of one of the canals and breathed it all in with a couple of Peroni’s, watching as happy faces sailed past on the ferry taxis and workers motored by on their small boats.

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Always desperate to avoid tourists, Elisha had researched one locality which may have contained more locals than it did iPad bearers. So we headed to the Cannaregio area in search of a restaurant and some pre-meal drinks. Italy has this cool affinity with aperitifs. Literally to the second, at 5pm, everybody seems to be out at a bar to have a spritz. Spritz is a simple cocktail of either Aperol or Campari, mixed with Prosecco and soda water and often garnished with a slice of orange or an olive. It’s just the coolest thing to see and take part in. Unfortunately, this kind of stuff just won’t ever happen in Australia because something as simple as this would cost $9-12, whereas here you would pay under $5. Even the Aperol to make this was only $6 or $7 a bottle whereas Dan Murphy’s charges $24. It would just be foolish to buy this back home, let alone make it yourself, so we thought we had better embrace this as much as we could whilst passing through Italy. And so, “it’s Spritz time” became a very regular saying (or statement rather.)

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We found a restaurant afterwards and sat next to a cute, old Italian couple who were already slurping away their spaghetti and sharing a bottle of vino. Unlike a lot of the rest of Italy, Venice’s food scene is rooted in seafood. No prizes for guessing that’s most likely because it’s surrounded by water. Although this may have made it special in the past, you just can’t provide fresh seafood to 20 million tourists passing through and, as such, we were mostly disappointed with what we ate when having seafood based dishes in Venice. After a bowl of ink-squid spaghetti and a bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, we agreed we get far better seafood back home and would maybe leave that for when we returned.

Unfortunately, I can’t handle too much fun at once and so, the next day and whilst we paid $140 to stay there, I sat in my room for 3 hours and watched the Suns play the Hawks. This of course proved a waste of time as I was soon swearing profusely as we plummeted to a 99 point thrashing. In desperate need of a pick me up, Elisha suggested “it’s Spritz time” and we ventured back out to get some Italian culture under our nails.

If I am being candid with you, at times I feared for our relationship because every time I turned around, Elisha seemed to be red in the cheeks and smitten every time she heard an old Italian man speak in his husky accent “buongiorno!” and wave his arms in vivid thrusts. It seemed the only way I could top that was to allow her to stop at every gelato store we passed and fill her belly to her heart’s content. It was just crazy to think how cheap it was here. Less than $2 AUD to eat fresh gelato on the streets of Venice and these little stores seemed to pop up every fifty metres!

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That night, we found a small family restaurant that had been open for 80 years (I assume they closed at night time and hadn’t in fact been open for 80 years straight.) We ordered a pizza each and a half-litre carafe of wine. One reason why we liked this little establishment so much was because it had no hidden fees. We were quickly learning in Italy that places often like to surprise you with extra charges, which is really frustrating to someone from Australia where we expect an advertised price to be the total and final price. So far, we had been asked to pay an extra “City Tax” per person per night on the advertised booking price for our accommodation, an extra “Service Charge” so a waiter can bring us our food (seriously, I can just go get it myself) and a “Cover Charge” just because they had put a table cloth on the table before we arrived. All these things get under your skin after awhile (OK pretty much immediately) but there’s really very little you can do. So this place was refreshing as it was just the advertised price and only the advertised price. (First rant over.)

My second rant is to do with just everything that is wrong with the wine culture in Australia. It’s really cool to stop for a meal in Italy and order some table wine. Table wine is just simple, inoffensive wine that doesn’t have a 400% mark up on it like you might find in Australia. You might pay $9 for half a litre of wine to have with your meal in Italy. In Australia, I remember regularly seeing wines that might only cost $9 a bottle in a store for close to $40 at a restaurant. And people pay it!! For reasons that are understandable, Australia taxes the crap out of alcohol. And I have several theories as to why, because you have to ask yourself why countries over in Europe seem to make it so available and so cheap. I think one of many reasons is the alcohol content. Spritz might only be 0.8 of a standard drink. Most wines are only 12-13%. In Australia, we have an incredibly undeveloped pallet which means we want jammy and sugary flavours over structure and quality. To get these strong fruit flavours, grapes are picked later, meaning they have more sugar which means more alcohol. Our whites are often heavier than French and Italian reds and our reds can be anywhere from 14-16%. This means you’re bound to get drunk when sharing a bottle, unlike in Italy where it’s less likely. Old world wines (French, Italian, Spanish) don’t go for upfront flavour but rather structure and understand that the wine exists to complement a meal. New world wines (Australia, NZ etc) tend to go for full flavour, high alcohol and exist purely to support a binge culture. In turn, this binge culture is what the government finds pressure to stop and as such, we find ourselves paying ludicrous premiums for sub-standard wine. Anyways, that was the ranty argument Elisha and I conjured up whilst having too much table wine that night. Umm so yeah. Pizza. We were eating pizza and drinking wine. It was a good night. (On the plus side, we are six days sober whilst writing this.)

We were due to meet Stu and his travelling photographer Jarrad the next day at the apartment on the La Giudecca side but had a few hours to kill beforehand. We left our bags at our hotel and went in search of some more sneaky gelato and pizza. We had read previously that pizza in Venice is horrible and to stay away from it but I’m glad we didn’t take too much notice of this. There were obvious tourist dives that were making utter rubbish but with a little research, there were still plenty of good pizzeria’s to eat at. We found another of these and sat down with our half-litre carafe whilst we waited for the doughy goodness to come out. A walk to the Piazza di San Marco seemed a smart way to then burn some of those calories we had just piled on. It was around midday so the tourists were out in force and it seemed a real stampede just to see the outline of this beautiful construction. A bit too busy, we thought. Maybe time to make our way over to our new accommodation.

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We’ve always tried to reject public transport whilst backpacking as we have endless time and little money and most can be achieved with walking. The problem with our new apartment was that it could only be reached by boat. Alas, we had to suck it up and cough up 30 Euro each to buy a 48 hour ferry pass. This was all well and good until the next morning we realised that one of the tickets it had spat out had in fact only been a one hour pass! Totally jipped! This left us for the rest of the trip trying to ferry as little as possible to prevent being caught and standing in a nervous wreck whenever we did have to catch a boat out of fear.

After a little confusion, Stu was able to find us at the ferry stop and guide us back to where he was staying. I really wasn’t too sure what to expect and really expect very little these days after months of sharing bathrooms and cramped rooms. However, the moment we walked in, we were blown away. I’m not sure what the owners did for a living to afford this but Oh My Google! This place was incredible. The lounge room sat behind giant glass doors that led out onto the sunny deck and the apartment backed out onto the water front! Upstairs, another deck overlooked the water and Oh My Google, it was just too perfect. We were really lucky Stu was able to firstly land this and to secondly invite us to share it with him and Jarrad. If I’m honest, I wouldn’t have judged him for keeping it quiet from us.

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It was a picturesque day so we spent the afternoon with some beers in the sun and sat watching Venice from across the river. This was why we were travelling! It was so beautiful and was such an incredible afternoon. We thought it would be foolish not to introduce the boys to our favourite new aperitif so Elisha piped up with “It’s Spritz time!” and we made our way 100 metres up the path to a place with a few tables and chairs out in the open. This too was amazing. And was probably where we should have left it. But we decided to stay at this place for dinner and they reserved a table for us. This was the weird part. And Italy seems to have this bad habit of being a little wanky and pretentious. We were drinking our Spritz at the “spritz” tables. We weren’t allowed to take our Spritz’ over to the dining table for that was the “dining” table. Although they could reserve it for us, we had to finish our Spritz at the “spritz” tables firstly. This place proved to be over the top rip-off kings. Whilst I paid $30 AUD for a tiny piece of swordfish and Jarrad paid over $15 for a small slice of lasagne, I think the real sting came when I foolishly grabbed a piece of bread from the bread basket. They had placed this on the table earlier after we had said no to their offer of water (knowing full well this would come with a hefty cost association.) Despite rejecting this, they still put the bread on the table. Apparently, Elisha knew all about this but said very little. So apparently, the moment I picked up a piece of this bread, I was saying to them “yes, we would like to get ripped off with your expensive bread and bottled water please.” Right on cue, they opened two bottles of water and placed them on our table before I had even bitten into the bread. I was to learn this mistake was to cost EACH and EVERYONE OF US 5 stinking Euros! That’s about $30 AUD in total! What was worse was the bread was completely stale! Such a rip! For me, it really killed the evening. Again, as an Australian, you just take things as face value and these little cultural differences were really grinding my gears. But oh well.

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Stu and Jarrad wanted to get up early the next day to do some shooting for an upcoming single. It had been many weeks since we had had a reason to get up with the sun so we thought we would join them and enjoy the Piazza di San Marco before the hordes of tourists arrived. After all, I was used to seeing this part of the city relatively tourist-free from my days in Assassin’s Creed. It’s remarkable how different the time of day affects places. We had been here just the day before and found ourselves in a cluster of people. But now, it was empty and peaceful and just mind-blowing. Totally worth the early alarm clock.

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Stu and Jarrad then wanted to do some more recording back at the apartment so we thought this was a good time to ferry across to Murano island, a nearby island maybe a half hour ferry’s ride from Venice and renowned for making glass. Again, this may have been true in the past but I don’t think too much glass making went on now. Even so, it was cool to see another island and … oh hell, all we did was find a place to order another pizza and get some more vino into us. What else was there to do when this was all around!

Some friends of Stu’s from Trieste wanted to meet up with him that afternoon so we became a group of six for the rest of that day. We thought splitting the expensive gondola ride between six made a lot more sense than to just do it on our own so with some Bellini’s (another Italian cocktail) in hand, we did the cliché tourist thing and rode around through the canals of Venice for 40 minutes. I of course had done all this before in the video game but I think Elisha really enjoyed it. The girls showed us around some of the parkland further down the eastern side of the islands. We had some more Spritz. “It’s Spritz time.” We had some more gelato and finished the night with some more pizza and wine.

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It was our last night in Venice and the four nights had passed incredibly quickly. The moon was full and shone beautifully over the water towards us. We could have sat out there all night on the deck. With wines and beers, we chatted and reminisced and talked about life, journeys, music and travel. It was such a brilliant moment in our travels – to be in such an awe-inspiring location with such incredible people. With just a few touch-ups in the graphic detail and storyline, I think it might have even been almost as good as Assassins Creed II itself.

**This blog was proudly brought to you by Ubisoft and XBOX**

18. Zurich // Switzerland // Verona // Italy

As previously warned, Zurich is a complete dump.

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It’s extremely expensive, there’s nothing to see and overall, its as avoidable to a traveller as a meat pie is to a paleo-enthusiast. So I won’t bore you with all the things we were bored with. The only place of interest was Frieburg which we stopped through in the lower left hand corner of Germany on the way there. Another place we had wanted to stay but had been time prevented, this was a quiet little town where couples sat along the banks of the flowing creek and kids passed their time straddling the high beams of the two bridges. We had a one night stay through Airbnb and had some time to kill in the morning before our bus would take us to Milan. We had some remaining Swiss Franc to use so thought we would shout ourselves a coffee and do some further planning on the free wifi. Only problem was, upon inspection 10 Franc ($12.50 Aus) does not get you 2 coffees. So we had to do the ashamed backpacking thing (come on backpackers, we know you have all done it!) and buy one coffee and share it. This one coffee cost over 10 Australian Dollars and left us with a bad taste in our mouth. It was definitely time to get out of Zurich!

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We have mostly been travelling with various bus companies throughout our European Journey as I have found them about half the price of trains, and always on time. Clinton sometimes just has to stick his legs in the aisle, but I figure this is a small price to pay! Zurich to Milan was no different. The only problem being, it was far too expensive for us to stay in Milan, so in the planning stages of this leg, I had opted to then catch a train from Milan to Verona for the night. This should not be a problem I thought. Buses are always on time, and I’ve very sensibly left a 2 hour gap between the time we get to Milan and our train leaving to Verona. Our bus was to arrive at 3pm in the afternoon. We lugged our bags there at the appropriate time, I checked in and we waited. 3pm comes and goes, and we still wait. 3.15pm comes and I start getting a little edgy, I check with the condutor to make sure I’m at the right place. I am and am told to wait. 3.25pm arrives, and still no bus. I chat with the person beside me and ask if he is waiting for the same bus. He replies he is, and it’s notoriously always late. GREAT!! 3.30pm comes and much to Clintons amusement, I start pacing the bus station, looking at my tickets every 20 seconds and jump at anything that sounds remotely like a bus. Finally at 3.45pm a bus arrives and the conductor points and confims this is indeed the correct bus! Hooray! 45 minutes late but I’ve still got plenty of time….until I have to go through the slowest most painful check in experience of my life. Snails would board a bus quicker then the bunch of old italians in front of me. I couldn’t understand what the problem was, but by the amount of hand gestures something wasnt right. I’ll never know. But finally about 4.10pm our bus departed the Zurich bus station with Clinton laughing out loud and me a nervous wreck.

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Now, Zurich may have not been the best city I have been too, but driving through the Swiss Alps with their snow covered mountains was amazing. As sleepy as I was, I could not close my eyes. The scenery was just beautiful. I was still nervous though, I’m not the best passenger at the best of times, and it was clear this Italian driver was trying to make up for lost time, which I appreciated, but I basically spent the whole ride looking out the window with the feeling of a beating heart in my throat. Everything was going smoothly on the roads, we passed border control seamlessly and I had high hopes of us making our train, until we entered Milan. How on earth could their be so much traffic. It seemed endless. I looked at Clinton and he was still smiling, “it will make a good story” he said, while I sat there dreaming of a cold homeless night at a Milan train station. The bus arrived in Milan fairly close to where I thought it would drop us off leaving us 40 minutes and 6km’s to the central station. Walking was no longer an option. We ran out of the bus station looking for a cab but after a few minutes couldnt find one. Neither of us have a working sim on our phones, so calling one was not an option. We made our way back to what we thought was a train station, which luckily it was, and tried to decipher the italian to get us to the central station. We thought we could do it, but we had to change trains once, and time was running out. We caught the first train, no problems, Clinton who is a gem with this kind of stuff, took us to where we needed to be for our second train, 8 minute wait, not ideal, but we could make it. We still had to print our tickets at the train station as I had purchased them online, however we decided we would have to take our luck with the inspectors, there was just no time to spare. We squished onto the second train with our huge packs and hoped for the best. We got off with about 2 minutes to find our train to Verona. Clinton somehow was able to read the signs and started walking very fast. So fast, that I had to run with my 20kg pack on to keep up. Up stairs, down corridors, and then I saw it, still stationed. Hooray!!! we jumped on, threw our bags on the chairs beside us and high fived! We made it.

Unfortunately our night was not over yet. By this time it was after 10pm at night and after a few emails back and forth with our accomodation we had a deadline of midnight to check in. The train was about an hour and a half and the walk about 1.5km’s. We were cutting it fine, but after coming so far we were not going to give up. The train was going completely to schedule until the stop prior to ours. Then of course it just stopped. We had no idea what was going on. We waited. We heard people yelling and the Italian Police. We swore, well I swore. We waited some more and then finally after about 15 minutes we started moving again. We didnt have long to get to our accomodation, and after the events of the day we were both exhausted. I entertained the idea of a cab. Clinton and I always walk, but just this once I thought maybe we can make an exception. Clinton thought we could make it on our feet. So I followed. I don’t know if you guys are aware, but Clintons like 6 foot 5. I scrape in at 5 foot 4. His legs basically come up to my belly button. He can walk a lot quicker than I can. So for the next 1.5k’s all Clinton heard was the pitter patter of my feet running behind him trying to keep up with him whilst carrying my bag that now felt like 40kgs. But with minutes to spare we found the place and after 4 excruciating flights of stairs we were finally in Verona.

After checking in and dumping our bags, and despite it being past midnight we elected to do a short walk of the town at night time. We were only having a one night stop over here and were to be departing to Venice at midday the next day. Our BnB was luckily very close to the old town, and the town itself is not very big. Upon walking towards the centre of the town, I kept giggling and becoming more and more delirious. Verona was spectacular. I had one of those moments where I feltlike, yes this is why I saved my pennies, temporarily gave up my life in Melbourne and came travelling, so I could see places as beautiful as Verona. We found a street vendor and bought a beer each, after the day we had, we certainly deserved it. We walked around the old town, taking in the sights of what remains of the Roman Amphitheatre which was completed around 30AD. Although only the internal supports remain of this amazing piece, interestingly it is still used today for public events and an open aired opera in the summer. We continued on our walk of this beautiful city, walking down cobble stoned pathways and through the Piazza dei Signori and although now everything was closed, I was still so charmed. We headed back to our Bnb so we could have a quick rest and get up early to explore more.

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During our next morning of sight seeing, we were able to again see the Amphitheatre which was now covered in tourists taking photos. I was so glad we were able to see such an amazing piece in the quiet of the night with no one around. We made our way towards Juliets Balcony. Although highly touristy, I was still excited to catch a glimpse. Obviously we were not early enough as it as well was full of tourists. Work is currently being done on the area around the balcony, as its been completely defaced by people writing their names and the names of their beloved in the hopes of their love everlasting. There is also a huge amount of love locks, and love letters pinned to another wall. I have since learnt that a group of local volunteers now read these letters and reply to each one, 70% are written by women with the largest group being American Teenagers. It was here that I bought my only souvenier so far, which as cliche as it sounds was a Juliet key ring.

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We spent the rest of the morning checking out Romeo’s house and getting lost in the beautiful streets and sights of Verona. Sadly our time here ended too quickly and it was time to head onto Venice. I don’t know if it was the arduous journey that we had to take to get to Verona, or the short amount of time that I had here that will always leave me feeling like I wanted more, but Verona will always hold a special place in my heart.

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17. Munich // Nuremberg // Frankfurt // Germany

Most people associate Munich with Oktoberfest, Beer Halls and sausages. But for us, it will always be remembered for the Snoring Fat Man.

We elected to fly back into the southern part of Germany to allow us the flexibility to travel in whichever direction we chose afterwards and, after a few expensive weeks in Dublin, booked ourselves back into a hostel dorm to try and recoup some of the money. Until now, 4 and 5 bed dorms had been our limit but to make Munich worth it, we had to book an 8 bed. Oh past Clinton and Elisha, if time travel existed, we would be coming back to rage a vicious war on you.

We honestly thought we would be OK. There were a few dodgy looking Czechs out the front of the hostel when we arrived but that shouldn’t have been a worry. Until of course, they also had been trying to save money by being in an 8 bed dorm. And then we found ourselves yet again in a dorm where Elisha was the only female and she was surrounded by a room full of smelly and dubious looking males.

Just as we were about to head out, a seventh person arrived who seemed to be a harmless man in his fifties from Finland. We made brief conversation before leaving. And then tried to leave. When he tried to make more conversation, alarm bells should have gone off. He didn’t strike me as someone who was, shall we say socially conscious. Eventually, we excused ourselves and went out in search of a beer hall for a late dinner. The easiest way we have learnt to sleep in a dorm of snoring people is to come home late, drunk and ready to crash.

It was late so we thought the chances of finding food may have been slim but just a few blocks around the corner we found one of these famous beer halls. These things are huge. They can be 4 or 5 stories high and hold up to 8,000 people – who are all there just to drink beer! Some of the halls have their regulars. But rather than just regulars, these guys arrive dressed in little Bavarian hats and leather shorts and the most awesome moustaches you have ever seen. They keep their very own personalised steins on the premises and keep them locked in their very own stein-sized locker. They also have their own table forever reserved for them and have their name hanging from a sign above it. We of course ordered a pork knuckle (and I thought it would be hilarious to tell Elisha that I loved to “Munchen a pork knuckle) and a stein each to do our best at replicating these beer legends who sat around us and a waiter, also wearing Bavarian leather apparel, brought it all out for us. Full and bloated, we went back home sometime prior to midnight, anticipating bear-grunts and snoring.

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Surprisingly, everyone was asleep when we walked in and we were even surprised to see another girl in the previously vacant bed. Elisha was no longer alone! But minutes in, we got our first glimpse of what the Snoring Fat Man was capable of. I seriously don’t know how to put this in words. And I’d bet my left nut you have never experienced this. But I’ll do my best at describing it.

The snoring was, at best, impossible to ignore right from the moment we got home. I’ve tried to counter snorers in the past by using a sleep-maker app on my phone so their horrid noises are drowned out by tranquil sounds of a creek in the forest or rhythmic thunderstorms over the ocean waves. When I tried to go to sleep though, I quickly learnt that by having my headphones to the absolute max, it still wasn’t enough to drown out the Snoring Fat Man. When my ears were almost bleeding from the loudness of my headphones, I gave up and took them out, only to instantly feel my bones shudder as the Snoring Fat Man inhaled breaths like he was chainsawing a forest and then exhale like he was a noisy pentecostal revival.

The thing was it was almost like the Snoring Fat Man was suffering from some kind of night terrors. He would sit up randomly, eerily like he was awake but no – he was in fact fast asleep. His arms would fidget in front of him as though he was trying to shoo something away. And he would randomly mutter foreign words and ramblings in his incredibly restless state.

But I haven’t told you the best part. On top of being one of the fattest men I have ever met, he was also sleeping with his shirt off and rampaged with his blanket in only his jocks and socks. Delightful. The noise was seriously deafening. If you were asleep right now and I was to come up to you and sing at the top of my lungs in your ear, I think you’d maybe have a sound similar to the decibel reading we faced that night. Around the room I’d look and see sleepy faces illuminated by iPhone screens and, between his snores and terrors, hear others trying to drown out the sounds with movies and music through their headphones.

Normally I’d try and entertain myself by messaging Elisha through the night and having a silent conversation that way. However, to exacerbate the situation, our WiFi password only allowed one device to be online at any one time. So whilst I texted Elisha and she texted me, neither of us got a response and assumed that the other was somehow fast asleep during this ordeal. I’ve seriously never wanted to punch another man so badly. Him and his fat disgusting gut.

Around 2am in the morning, I had had enough and leapt out of bed. Not surprisingly, I found Elisha awake and we grabbed the laptop and headed out to the corridor. But alas, the Snoring Fat Man could still be heard out there so we had to continue further and sit out near the steps. With nothing better to do, we began downloading the last 7 episodes of How I Met Your Mother and prepared for a long sleepless night but hey, if we weren’t going to sleep we were going to try and pretend it was because we had a great TV show to watch and not because sleep had been stolen from us. (Still not sure what I think of the ending.)

The one silver lining from this is that we got to explore a city for the first time at the crack of dawn. Through slant eyes and on weary legs, we got to check out a bit of Munich as the sun rose behind the beer halls and we were able to re-energise ourselves at a coffee shop before making our way back to hopefully a quieter room where we could maybe grab a few catch-up winks. Needless to say, reception knew exactly who we were referring to as we spoke to them that morning. Apparently, we weren’t the first ones to address the issue with them. With the room cleared of the Czechs and the Snoring Fat Man, we managed a few much-needed hours of sleep. Upon awaking, we met the two other Italians and learnt the girl was in fact from Australia. As they all seemed nice enough, we thought we could maybe manage two more nights in the hostel. However, after that, we vowed to never put ourselves through that again. We were done with hostels. With dorms. With sharing space with other people. If I was handed a flight home that night, I may have taken it. Travelling is unreal but we certainly didn’t sell all our stuff and save all our pennies for a year to endure moments like that. So it was decided we’d always spend a bit more from then on and save on the jail-term that would await me if I was to actually kill the Snoring Fat Man.

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Snoring Fat Man aside, Munich is a pretty cool city. If you’re not aware, the city is inland. However, one of its coolest features is surfing. That’s right – you heard correctly. Surfing. There is this little spot at the southern tip of the English Garden where the Eisbach creek has been modified to artificially create a constant wave, sort of what you’d find at Wet’n’Wild, except it’s free, it is used all day long and some serious surfers show up here to have a crack. YouTube it to see what I mean. It’s a really cool and unique thing to see. We also stood over the street where Hitler gave some of his famous speeches from and where his street riot was where he was almost killed very early on in his political life. Munich is also home to one of the world’s worst tourist attractions and that is the glockenspiel. As the clock hits 12, little this’ and thats pop out and spin and make noise and thousands of tourists sit below and stare up behind their ipads and point and laugh and remind me why wherever I go, I’ll go to any length to visit a part of the city where the locals go and the tourists don’t.

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In the end, it was difficult to leave Munich, largely because it’s near impossible to lift yourself out from one of those fine wooden chairs that fill the beer halls. You can’t visit Munich without visiting Hofbrauhaus – one of the most famous of its sort. The place entertains some of the most loyal residences (as mentioned before) as well as hordes of tourists. It’s an interesting mix. For something different, we also went next door to Augustiner Braustuben, which seemed a little quieter and had even more of the colourful locals lifting steins.

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During our journey to little Nuremberg, which was our next Bavarian destination, to my horror Elisha informed me that we had already booked a hostel here as well so it seemed two more nights in dorms awaited us. In our experience, however, hostels in smaller towns/cities seemed to draw a much friendlier and amicable crowd than the swine and job-seeking old men you might find in city hostels. Nuremberg was just that and we met some really interesting people in this hostel. One gentlemen had formerly owned a coffee shop in LA and served coffee for Olivia Newton-John over a 3 week period where she was awaiting the purchase of a yacht. The other gentlemen was a travelling street-performer and had a lot of stories for us about the pros and cons of his trade.

Company aside, Nuremberg is known for its restored medieval Altstadt and grand castle, as well as Nurnberger Bratwurste (finger-sized sausages) and Lebkuchen (gingerbread cookies.) Elisha made sure we continued our quest to get fat enough to fill Santa’s suit the following year if we were asked and we ate plenty of both. If you are in Nuremberg over the Christmas period, you will find the market square has been converted into this colourfully decorated Christmas market. We visited around Easter time and, although it may not have quite been what it is in December, it still did a mighty fine job. It was mesmerising to walk through these endless stalls whilst having these old constructions tower over you from each side. We only spent two nights there and it was a nice change to sleep right through the night without a single snorer in the room. Albeit, Elisha does seem to maintain that she did have trouble sleeping due to somebody snoring. Supposedly, so she claims, that was me. Perhaps that also explains why everyone was relatively cold to me the next morning . . .

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Earlier in my trip, I’d researched where Dirk Nowitzki (an NBA finals MVP) was from. Upon learning it was Wurzburg, I also googled this and was relatively intrigued by the pictures that came up. Unfortunately, our time was limited and we were unable to squeeze both Wurzburg and Nuremberg in before we arrived in Frankfurt. Needless to say, as our bus pulled up for a half hour stop at a truck stop above the valley leading down to it, we were really kicking ourselves for not making our way there. Castles and vineyards were dotted all through the valley and, from afar, it looked really beautiful. Next time. Wurzburg is now at the bottom of our ever-growing list of places we still must see.

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Frankfurt wasn’t particularly a city we were keen to see nor would I really recommend it as a must-visit place in Germany. However, we did have two agendas for going. One – to catch up with our friend Frank whom we’d met in Vietnam (yes, I also thought it was funny to say Frank from Frankfurt) and Two – to again catch another one of Stu’s European gigs. This meant we were in Frankfurt for a total of 5 nights and somehow, again ended up in 3 different places of accommodation.

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We spent our first night in a 3 bed apartment reacquainting ourselves with Frank from Frankfurt. Although we had been calling the national grocery store Rewe as “Roo” for the last 3 weeks, Frank stared at us blankly when we referred to it as this and he kindly informed us that it is in fact called “Rieva.” He also taught us that you can buy pork rolls (and I mean like an inch thick slice of pork) with mustard for One Euro Fifty (so we of course ate 2 of those every day from then onwards.) After the customary 3 beers each upon checking in, we made our way over to Sachsenhausen, which is basically Frankfurt’s equivalent of Temple Bar in Dublin or The Valley in Brisbane. It was pub, pub and more pubs and festive drunks in all directions. Whilst Frank from Frankfurt indulged in a steak, Elisha and I shared some frankfurts and pork knuckle and washed it down with their traditional apple wine (maybe like flat/dry apple cider?) Frank from frankfurt then took us to a bar selling “a metre of beer.” These are basically a metre long paddle of 10 x 200ml glasses of beer. Honestly, it made no sense to me. Just pour two steins? But maybe not everyone has the biceps I do and can’t lift them. But more likely, it’s more fun to share amongst 3 people. I think some shots followed. And a few beers were knocked over. And maybe an Irish bar made its way in there somewhere. I do remember the night ending because I had a sudden case of the runs and had to get home quick smart.

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After a big German breakfast, we parted ways with Frank from Frankfurt (who by the way is not from Frankfurt but I can’t say Frank from the small town I can’t remember the name of – it just doesn’t have the same ring to it) and made our way to our next night of accommodation. I don’t think we did much here – just rested from our night of shenanigans. We had planned to try and stay in the same place as Stu but once this didn’t come to fruition, we tried to extend our stay at the place we were at. However, they had for some reason doubled in price (go figure?) and didn’t want to match what we had paid the night before. So it seemed we were back to a hostel but ensured we were in a private room where the risk of someone snoring was limited to just ourselves.

We got another chance to catch one of Stu’s gigs but ended up having to walk about 6kms due to the venue being out in the sticks. We tried a few more low-key German beers with him and his support act before it was time to enter in. I’d left my whisky in Ireland so I couldn’t even share that with him as promised. He had an early departure the next morning (and I hear made it to Wurzburg the bugger!) so we said farewell shortly after his gig (and after consuming as much of the backstage food as we could) and made the 6km walk back home before the werewolves came out at midnight.

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Our last couple of nights in Frankfurt were relatively quiet as we tried to plan the next week of our trip. Stu had been handed the keys for an apartment in Venice for a few nights in a weeks time and had invited us to stay with him and Jared (his photographer.) Because we have brains in our heads and not marshmallows we of course made rapid plans to ensure our travel took us in that direction so we could stay in Venice for a couple of nights for free. It looked like we would have to miss some other quaint townships like Freiburg and the Black Forest and instead spend a night in dumps like Zurich and maybe Milan but we were not going to miss Venice. So we made our plans and tried to get some rest before we set off in that direction. Well, I got some rest. Elisha tells me I again snored and kept her up all night. Maybe we need single rooms??

16. Belfast // Galway // Ireland

Where does one start with the Irish?! Most of them are knackers (Irish for ‘bogan’) and wear fully-matching two piece tracksuits regularly in public. It took just one night before we saw a punch-on in the middle of the street and their entire economy is royaly screwed following a generation of bad-credit investments in the space of 5 years.) As they are forever drunk and having craic (pronounced crack, Gailic for fun) they have reproduced into the world’s ugliest country and must play two of the world’s silliest sports (behind AFL) in Gailic football and hurling.

But add to all this one thing and you probably have one of the greatest cultures alive – Guinness. We must have consumed over 100 pints of this velvety ink-like substance whilst we were there and wish we could go back to consume 100 more. Talking in an Irish Bar with Guiness-froth moustaches and a Steak and Guiness pie in the middle will, I think one day, be listed as a UNESCO activity (if this is at all possible,) and I assume the reason we now have Irish pubs all over the world. The Irish love a chat and it’s near impossible to sit in a pub without your nearest (or furtherest for that matter) neighbour chiming in for a chat. They call it craic. “Have great craic” they say. It’s such a common saying that hotels will often advertise “stay here for great craic.” We heard one story (one of many from the Irish – they love a gooooood stooooorrrrrrryyyyy) about one lady who was just about to pay for her hotel reservation only to read they provide great craic. Confusing this for something else, she immediately cancelled.

We had plenty of craic in Ireland, along with our friends Mike and Nacky (who appropriated the knacker-like moniker after arriving home from a flight one morning still in her pyjamas!) For part two of our Ireland blog, this craic starts with our plans to head to the north and surprise our friend Stu who was playing a gig there. He was, in fact, playing Dublin the next day but I was already struggling to keep the secret quiet and thought that, as well as seeing another part of Ireland, we could surprise him a night earlier.

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So we caught a bus earlier that morning and, after a few hours of quietly giggling everytime the driver spoke with his Irish accent, we arrived in Belfast around midday. Before heading to the gig later that night, we had a few hours to kill and decided to fill this with a trip to the Titanic Museum. Belfast was the city where this majestic ship was built and they’ve since constructed this mammoth 4 story “experience” centre for tourists. It was very touristy, very expensive and even contained this lame-bot ride that took you through the making of the ship. Personally, I would have been happy had they removed the ride and shaved ten dollars off the price. Or better yet, handed me a wifi-password so I could have read about the Titanic on Wikipedia and shaved all dollars off the price. But here we were, at the site of the Titanic’s construction, it’s birthplace and, despite all the lame tourism (we like to refer to ourselves as travellers – tourists are just a cluster of people holding ipads up to take photos and always standing in my way) we learned quite a lot that day. Of particular interest was that I learnt my great grandfather had been on the ship. His name was George Frederick Sweet and he was 14 at the time, travelling with his adopted family, the Hermans. Although they all survived, he died in the sinking and was never identified. Actually, he was 14 and died so perhaps I wasn’t related to him at all on second thought.

Finishing up there, we made our way to The Black Box to reserve some seats for the gig later that night. We tiptoed into the venue so as not to be seen just in case Stu was doing a sound check but thankfully, were not spotted. Tickets were not yet available so we thought we would head around the corner for a few pints of Guiness beforehand. We were a little nervous drinking at this establishment because the risk was still high that Stu could have the same idea and there we would be, plans ruined, as we stood side by side at the exact same pub. But alas, we also got throught that unscathed. Better yet, a group of 5 or 6 muso’s were seated in the corner and generously played some incredible and harmonic songs for the small crowd whilst we drank. And it wouldn’t be Ireland if the couple seated next to us didn’t just randomly strike up a conversation with us so we spoke with them for a while and learnt it was her birthday and that she’d bought herself a camera that day and that she didn’t know how to use it and that we would have to show her and that we would also have to be in a photo and that she now has a blurry photo of us. Time sneaked up on us though and it was time for the grand surprise to come into fruition.

Understand this had been in the making for about 6 weeks. Sitting in a bar in Hanoi in Vietnam, we had come up with a travel path that would bring us over to Ireland to celebrate our birthday’s and St Paddy’s day, to visit some close friends and to surprise Stu. For the last two weeks, we had been on a Facebook hiatus so as not to accidentally give anything away. We had also put Nicky and Battye on notice so as not to tag us into any updates that might bely our location. We’d adroitly sent several tweets to suggest we were in fact still in Berlin to further give Stu no indication. I hadn’t planned anything epic but Stu and I are both fond of a TV show called Lano & Woodley and used to watch them religiously when we lived together years ago. There is one scene where Lano and Woodley are performing live and a heckler screemed out “Play bouncy bouncy rabbit.” So I thought this would be what I would scream out. I was sure it would be so obvious to Stu from on the stage that it was me, that I’d travelled all this way just to surprise him and he’d be left speechless on stage and in a wave of emotion would invite me up to duet and I could perform my own epic single “Rosie Rose” and the crowd would love me and a Record label would be in the crowd and sign me and then I’d be bigger than Snoop Dog.

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Again we arrived, a little earlier than hoped so we could escape our awkward conversation from earlier regarding the camera and whatever else we were unable to understand from their funny leprechaun-like accents. We purchased tickets and found the room filled with maybe only a dozen people. Oh no. That could make us easy to spot. We quickly rushed to a corner table that was near the bar and that hopefully provided enough shadow that we could remain invisible. We ordered two Guiness’ to calm the nerves and hunched over at our table for the next half an hour. We again got through unscathed before it was time to hear the support act. We were probably safe by now so we sat up a little to enjoy the set. It was just then that I noticed to the back right-hand corner of the room that Stu was sitting next to the sound guy. Argh!! Duck! Duck! Elisha and I crunched down again and threw our hoodies on, desperate to remain anonomous. This seemed to work ok. Once or twice Stu walked right past without any knowledge that we were there. I did encounter some problems as the Guiness past through and I needed to pee. The toilet, unfortunately, was past where Stu was sitting. “That will have to wait,” I said. But the gods were on our side and we again got through the set unscathed. The support act finished and Stu disappeared to get himself ready. “We made it!” Still sitting in a flutter of nerves, I thought I’d grab another Guiness so I had the right courage to yell out “Play bouncy bouncy rabbit” in this some what respectful and intimate crowd. There were 3 minutes before Stu was set to start so I had to get over these nerves quick.

I stood at the bar and the barmen served two people to my right. I was next to be served. He walked over to my direction and I started to place my order only to realise someone had rudely stood to my left and commenced ordering. Even worse, the barmen was serving him! Outraged, I turned to my left. The gentlement, realising he had pushed in, also turned to me to apologise. And as we stood face to face, a moment of oblivion passed before Stu and I both realised we were standing next to each other.

That’s right. Six weeks of solid planning, of utter secrecy, of strong discipline, went immediately out the window as Stu realised he needed to get a pen from the bar so he could write his set list!!

For the next hour he plucked a few wrong chords on stage and I drowned my disappointment in a river of Guiness before his set finished and we could reunite properly. I tried to overcome my frustration that he didn’t have a set list already written, he tried to work out what on earth we were doing in Belfast and not in fact in Berlin as we had last said, and the night went off. He generously paid for us to stay in the room next to his that night so we didn’t have to catch the bus back home at midnight. And good craic was had.

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Elisha kindly rode the bus back to Dublin the next day by herself so that I could travel in Stu’s two-seater back and we could catch-up like old times. We got on to the conversation of Scotch vs Whiskey and I innocently asked the question, does Ireland have top end whiskeys or is it just all Jameson? He went on to tell me a story of Middleton. A friend had once bought him a glass before for 18 Euros so he could try it and it completely blew him away and he was of the opinion that yes, Ireland had some whiskeys that competed with the Scotches I liked.

Elisha and I were to catch up with Stu again later that night to see him perform at the Workman’s Club in Dublin. We sat with him back stage and ate his sandwiches and drank his free beers whilst we waited for the support act to finish. It was at this time that Stu pulled out a shopping bag and handed it to me, saying “Happy birthday.” Oh my god. What has he got for me this time? It was only as I looked inside to find a wooden box with Middleton inscribed on it that I realised what stupid thing he’d gone and done! Wow. What an amazing gift. It totally blew me away and I was incredibly grateful. I’d be foolish not to crack it open that night so we poured a glass each later that night back at his room and savoured this incredibly powerful and robust whisky from Ireland! And good craic was had.

Stu continued on his tour and Nicky and Battye returned home from their 5 nights away in Norway. These two had been so generous to us, allowing us to stay at their place from the day they moved in (how is that for stepping on people’s toes?) and even allowed us to use their bed for the 5 nights they went overseas. We can’t thank you two enough! As my birthday – the big 30, the big “oh dear you are now almost dead and had better party hard just one last time” – approached, we made plans to rent a car and drive ourselves to Galway for two nights.

As we awaited for Nikki to get home from work on the Friday afternoon, the trip got off to a terrible start when Mike realised a clamp had been put on the rental where he had parked it. An 80 Euro fine and an hour of waiting for them to declamp it later, we managed to get on the road. Mike and Nicky sometimes have this amazing ability to take their sweet arse time and we’d learned of this a year earlier when we had all gone to Pyramid Rock Festival over New Years and they had to stop multiple times for crucial items such as groceries, alcohol and even a tent (all items we’d packed the day before.) This trip was no different and even though Google told us we should get to Galway within 2 and a half hours, somehow it took 6 and we didn’t arrive until after midnight. But we still love those two immensely. And amidst the jokes that arose around “who ordered the singapore noodles” and “you won’t escape the galway shopping,” it was mainly 6 hours of laughs anyway.

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The epic 30th wasn’t scheduled until the next night so we planned some market stalls in the morning and a drive to the Cliffs of Moher for the afternoon. We bought some cheeses and olives from this quant little market and stored those for pre-party drinks. The drive out to the Cliffs of Moher were amazing and we got to see some incredible Irish country sights, in particular some limestone hills that that met with the ocean and went on and on. Unfortunately, we all proved to be extreme tight-arses when it came to the actual Cliffs of Moher and regrettably balked at the 6 Euro each charge. Instead, we thought we could get better value for our money by finding a country Irish pub in the nearest town and treating ourselves to a birthday Guiness and some Irish grub. That we did and, it wasn’t until after we realised we had probably each spent 100 Euro later that night that we thought maybe the Cliffs could have been squeezed in. Oh well.

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My 30th was nothing short of a night of good ol ‘Craic!’ Thanks to Elisha, Battye and Nicky, I was spoilt rotten and received some wonderful birthday wishes by literally everyone in every pub we entered. As we neared midnight, the clan had secretly instructed the band to play happy birthday on the chime, as well as convince several random gentlemen to also sing along. They were quite happy to do so but did tell Battye “Oh yeah, we can sing along. But we’re not gay!” Thanks for that side information. So as the clock hit midnight, this crowded Irish pub erupted into a chorus of song and many randoms came up to me afterwards to give me their wishes. The band also invited me to strum a banjo afterwards which was quite fun. They could soon tell I was a guitarist though as I had no idea what I was doing. Enter Sandman just doens’t work on a four string. My birthday continued to get better, right up until our last pub when we stumbled on someone else celebrating their 30th. In my gregarious state, I thought I’d invite myself in, appropriate the 30th baloons and claim them as my own. Thanks Liz Fitzerald. Whoever you are. The night ended with a pizza and a conversation at 4.30am in the morning with a random guy from Chicago in the hallway of our hostel. Elisha quickly learnt he worked in the milk industry and gave him an hour of her best We are destroying the milk industry argument.

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A good night is only ever guaged by the number of voms the next day and Nicky and Elisha made sure that I knew the night had been successful. I think we can all say some good craic was had and it will be a 30th I will remember for a long time. Well, segments of it.

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We had one more night in Ireland before we were to say goodbye. We contributed some Fosters to the night for our Australian contingent and Mike and Nicky brought home one last round of Guinness’ to say Au Revoir. Even though we were drinking to our last 3 weeks in Ireland, I’m sure they were drinking to getting their kitchen and loungeroom back :). We can’t thank them enough for their hospitality but hope to return it someday when we own more than two backpacks worth of clothes. We shall miss the knackers, the Guiness and the craic but I’m sure it won’t be long before we visit again. After all, most of our clothes are stored in their cupboard. Oh, Mike and Nicky, we left most of our clothes in your cupboard – just as an FYI.