Taking the original Free Walking Tour in Munich … 11 years on!

It’s lovely to be back in Munich again. I do believe it’s my fifth visit to this lovely German city and I truly never tire of it. One thing I discovered on my first visit was the SANDEMANs Free Walking Tour of Munich. It was my first experience on this type of tour and I’ve done many around the world. I highly recommend it, so much so that I did it again today – granted it was 11 years since the first one.


This time I’m in Munich with my Dad. It’s his first visit to Germany since he was 16 … so 45+ years! I had an idea of the things we could do and the most famous spots, after a number of visits. But when someone is new to a city and newish to a country, the basics of the history and the top cultural sites are a must. So the free walking tour was an easy choice.


Despite being -1 degree celcius in the city today, we were happy to walk around. It’s Sunday and it was super quiet throughout the main streets. We learned that all shops are closed on Sunday in the centre. Which is quite refreshing. We quickly found the crowds – in Marienplatz! The main meeting spot of Munich and a highlight for many visitors. And thus began our two hour tour.

First, the DPTX9998Glocknspiel! It tours above the square and it’s bells are a delight to hear whenever walking around the city, we then watched the dancing characters and little show they provide –  depicting a famous royal wedding, jousting and the bier makers dance. Very German! Well, very Bavarian!

Next it’s on to some of the dark history of Munich – talking about the place where the Nazi party essentially started the horrible war against Jewish people – now known as the “Night of broken glass”. With the grey clouds and cold weather, you could feel the dark and terrible time that was.

On to the epic Frauen Kircher. I remembered this church very clearly and some of its history. I had thought that it was extremely damaged during WWII, most of Munich was. The point I missed was that actually the English army used the two tall towers with onion like tops as beacons so that when bombing the city, they knew they were hitting the right spot. The roof and one of the towers was damaged, but no where near as bad as it could have been. I also remembered the story of the footprint on the floor – known as the devil’s hoof. It’s a nice tale in a way and a fun thing for tourists to photograph – my foot almost fit the mark!

I won’t bore you with all the history, and we must save some things for when you go on the tour. So here are some of my lovely pics (I think so anyway) from walking around the city.

Another famous stop has to be the Hofbrauhaus. One of the most famous, if not THE most famous Beer Hall in the world. We stop there on the tour for a toilet and coffee break (much needed in this freezing weather). However, I said to Dad, it had to be our lunch place. It was lovely to go in and see so many people enjoying, and although there are many other bier halls all over the city, it’s sometimes nice to go somewhere so iconic.


The tour ends back where we started after a swing by another church with more great stories, a wonderful food market that looked very sad and sorry but in Summer is pumping (I’ve luckily visited there in peak time) and back to Marienplatz.


Big thanks to our wonderful tour guide Karl who gave great info, told some fun stories and gave helpful advice at the end. Highly recommend the tour.

After the tour, it was straight to the bier hall for some lunch! For me, it had to be my favourite Schweinshaxe mit knodel und krautsalat. Pork knuckle with potato dumpling and fermented cabbage salad. Yum! Dad went for the classic bratwurst. And, beers! Prost (cheers in German). Loved it! The atmosphere was great, the food was delicious and the beer as always, was wunderbar!

A walk around the beautiful Christmas markets, my favourite ones next to the Residence and the day was complete. We were a bit cold and a bit tired and we hit up the U Bahn to go home for a rest. I think there might be a seperate blog for the markets, and maybe the Hofbrauhaus too. All in all, a fab day in Munich! Danke!

Reunion with Betsy – my 80 year old Dutch friend

Today, I get to see my dear friend Betsy in the Netherlands and I could not be more excited. We’ve been talking about meeting again since we last saw each other in February 2015. We met on a cycle tour in Vietnam with Plan Nederlands. Despite being exactly 50 years apart, we had an instant bond and I consider her a life long friend. Now, dear Betsy will show me her homeland!


Betsy loving life cycling in Vietnam, I’m in red next to her.

At 77, Betsy was by far the eldest on our cycle trip to Vietnam. I was the tour leader for the group along with my colleague Nicola. We had a group of 32!!! Dutch women to wrangle from Hanoi to Da Nang and back. It was daunting I must say. Despite her age, Betsy fit into the group perfectly. She was up for every challenged and relished the experience.

I did have some concerns about Betsy and worried for her safety and her ability with the group, but within hours I could see that this fire cracker was going to tackle anything we threw at her. From long days on the bike, to hiking up hills and partying til the wee hours in a karaoke bar, Betsy was there! I loved seeing her take on every experience with gusto and her pure joy. She truly was loving every moment and her openness and eagerness to make the most of life set her apart as a role model in my eyes.


Betsy and other #Cycle4girls team members training in the Netherlands.

On one occasion, we were a little misled by our Vietnamese guides as to the terrain and the weather conditions which resulted in a very difficult ride. Half the group, the casual cruisers, which I was leading were soon off the bikes and trudging through mud and up slippery roads. Even the truck that drove ahead of our group seemed to struggle on the hills. I told the group to take it easy and we’d just take our time, to be safe. I soon noticed that Betsy had cut her leg. It must have been on the pedal and I felt awful that she was injured. She said it didn’t hurt and wanted to keep going but I had to insist we stopped to tend to her leg. With some of my rough first aid skills, and despite the heavy rain, we managed to secure a band aid like device to her leg with lots of medical tape. The rain was hindering my ability to execute but it seemed to suffice

After we’d got that sorted, we had to continue up the hill to meet the group. It was quite steep and I was a little worried about the strain on Betsy. We were pushing our bikes as well and I did offer that I might push both our bikes. However, I quickly realized, it was actually helping her to balance. A strong woman, and not easily seeking help, she insisted on continuing side by side. Our whole group was watching us trudge up together. Eventually, she let me take her bike.  Betsy obliged but insisted on placing a hand on my shoulder, to steady me and help me up the hill. I understood that actually it helped to steady herself and get better balance by having her hand on my shoulder. I called to the group “Betsy is helping me to keep balance, look at her go, steadying me up the hill.” The group all cheered us on and it was such a beautiful moment. When we reached them everyone celebrated with us and Betsy just had the biggest smile – I’ll never forget it. She turned to me and threw her head back in a joyous laugh. We then brought it in for a huge hug! The day wasn’t over, but that sure was a highlight.

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Betsy won our best dressed competition, it was dress to represent Vietnam! Nailed it.

Betsy and I spoke often on our trip and I would try to sit near her wherever possible. She would tell me about her family, her home, and her many hobbies and activities. This woman’s zest for life, huge smile and bubbling laughter drew people to her.

Saying Goodbye to Betsy was so hard. Standing by the bus in Hanoi. I saved her til last. We hugged for so long and so tight. She pulled me away and held me by the shoulders. “We will meet in Holland and we will sit under the oak tree and drink red wine.” She had told me about this favourite past time of hers from her lovely home and garden, we had made a promise to meet there. And I knew I would do it someday. Through tears I nodded in agreement and promised again. She embraced me and I told her “my heart is so full from having met you.” I felt truly grateful.

So, after almost three long years of email communications and beautiful hand written letters (and a few postcards from me) we will meet again. I’ve received these beautiful copies of paintings that Betsy has done. She posts them to me and on the back are long letters about her life, her family, her history and more. Every time I cry a little – it’s just so beautiful I get to share these moments with someone so far away and from such a different time to my own.

Together we will see the sights of Amsterdam, visit our. Plan Netherlands Cycle Tour friends and enjoy visiting her home town near Aalten. I look forward to sharing our wonderful adventures with you.

Comparing Santa experiences in Lapland – Rovaniemi, Finland

Santa Claus is coming to town and he’s a very busy man in Finland! Catering to the many Santa needs in this region there are a fair few choices of places to meet the jolly red man. Here are my opinions on a few on offer from what I have experienced.


Santa Park

Santa Park is located within a short, but expensive, taxi ride from our accommodation the Ounasavaaran Puritit, or the city centre. It’s an underground world of magic which involves all the aspects of Santa’s operations.


From the cave and lights entrance to elf school, an ice kingdom and Santa’s post office. There is something for all age groups here and the layout is perfect for spreading people between activities. I loved the gingerbread decorating room, calligraphy area where we could sign our elf school graduation certificates and the elf toy making workshop.


It was 31 euros to get in which was a little steep but we did spend 3-4 hours there and had a really great time. There were only a few extra things to pay for inside but most activities were included. Great fun for ages 2 onwards, we had a 2 year old who loved it.  I am 26 however and feel I enjoyed it more, wearing my “Santa Believes in me” elf hat with pride.


Santa Village

The Santa Village is an outdoor Santa theme park essentially. There are a whole bunch of areas within the village with activities and things to do. My friends husband and I were not interested in going here initially as we felt we’d had our Santa experience with the Santa Park. She persuaded us it much different and we had time to kill in any case. He and I actually enjoyed it much more than she did. She had spent a lot of time researching everything and so felt the description didn’t live up to what she saw whilst we were pleasantly surprised.


Activities included a Santa Museum, tobogganing area, giant ice slide, crystal store and restaurant, restaurants and cafes, many gift shops, reindeer sled rides and reindeer interactions. Of course there was the Santa experience which was extremely well done with an elaborate entrance and very anticipating and exciting way to enter Santa’s presence. He was a kind and sweet Santa and we got a video and photos of our experience (purchased of course.)


The highlight was visiting Santa’s official post office and seeing elves hard at work reading all the letters. We also sent letters off with the official post office stamp from the Arctic circle. And then of course you get to see the official Arctic circle of the North line!


We had a wonderful evening there and could have spent more time had it not been -30 by the time we left outside. Only disappointment, no reindeer to just visit and see, you had to do a sled ride for 17 euros and these had stopped by 5pm when we reached.


Santa's Official Post Office

Santa’s Official Post Office


This is an elf and Santa fantasy land experience. I cannot speak too much about it as I did not attend however my friend did. She read rave reviews and felt this would be the ultimate Santa experience. Unfortunately, again, reading and researching proved to be a bit disappointing. I also think the fact that we had 2 great Santa experiences the two days prior affected her opinion. The bus driver was rude on the way there, the tour felt a bit rushed and again…. No reindeer! She said the elves were great and it was beautiful. But for 160 euros…. She wasn’t sure she’d do it again. I think if you make this your only experience, it would be great. Also it’s more targeted at 6-10 year olds who would find it amazing!! A 2 year old was a bit young to take it and a 26 year old mother probably a bit old to get so wrapped up in the magic.


Personally, I was very happy with the order in which we did the two locations, Santa Park and Santa Village and I feel they catered well to the magic of Christmas and the Santa experience. I could not justify 160 euros for another Santa experience when I had already done the other two so for me, I would do this over again.

Santa Park

Santa Park

So, wherever you decide is best to go, Rovaniemi certainly brings back the believer in me and the magic of the Christmas spirit to all who visit. Ho, ho, ho- Merry Christmas to you all!

Ice Bar at Santa Park

Ice Bar at Santa Park

Winter Wonderland at Santa Village, Rovaniemi, Finland

The official residence of Santa Claus himself and the line that marks the beginning of the Northern Arctic Circle is Santa Village in Rovaniemi, Finland.


I must admit, I was hesitant to attend the Santa Village as we had the day before attended Santa Park. As a 26 year old woman, there was only so much excitement I could build about the big man in red and I felt I was in store for a same same experience as the day before. My friend insisted this was SO different as this was all outdoors and there was a lot to do in the area. As we had a lot of time to kill, I was happy to oblige. I was also delighted that there was no entry fee! WAHOO! Something free in Finland.


I must say I was more than pleasantly surprised. This was one of the highlights of the trip and a fantastic village of entertainment for all ages. It was so beautifully decorated and actually looked better in the darkness with the giant Christmas trees lit up and the dazzling lights sparking in the trees.


First stop was the “official” post office of Santa Clause. From here, you can post a card which will be stamped with the official and only stamp of Santa Clause and the North Pole, a novelty in itself. We saw the elves hard at work sorting letters, the countries boxes filled with letters from children all over the world and many people dedicated writing letters to Santa and home to family and friends. I of course had to send off my greetings to family, simply as a once in a lifetime souvenir and our little traveler helped me post them.
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We went on to some souvenir shops, of which there were many, and I have to say across the board this was my major disappointment with Lapland and Finland. The souvenirs were generic and not particularly relevant to the area. I expected in such a unique place that they would have some special gift and mementos that mentioned all the experiences. Many of them appeared to be readily available in all shops around Finland and could have come from anywhere in the world. More on this later.

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So it was time to meet Santa again. I must say, the entrance and build up was spectacular. We walked through a cave and ice tunnel to a large room. We went upstairs past a giant clock, counting down to Christmas. We then saw a hall of fame of famous visitors to Santa’s office in prior years. An elf then snuck out and played along, hiding from us, and poking his head around, enticing us to Santa’s meeting room. We went along and were told we would have photos and a VIDEO of our encounter with the big man in red! We entered the room which was filled with presents and wonderful decorations. I felt excited and nervous again and hugged our little traveler as we again tried to coax him to say hello to Santa. He was a kind and jolly man, very aware of Australia and thanking us greatly for coming so far to meet him. He was the perfect embodiment of the Santa we always dreamed of catching at our Christmas tree as he delivered our lovely presents. It was another nice encounter and I felt warm and happy after we left. We purchased our photos and videos and got lots of extra bonuses on our USB, including music and photos of Santa Village.


We played on the ice slide and my friend missed the memo about the ice and did a wonderful stack! I took the little traveler down the slide and he cried “Wee Wee Wee” all the way down. It’s a pure joy to travel with a little person and see their wonder and amazement at everything. It’s all so new to them and even the simplest things can make them so happy. I hope I can always maintain some of this childlike wonder.


Another thrill of the village was seeing the blue line that marked the beginning of the Northern Arctic Circle. I climbed a top the globe like structure and imitated sitting on top of the World. I tell you now, it’s not easy to climb on and it’s not recommended to try and plank it. I believe this was not the intention of the structure but it was too much fun to resist!



One other let down was that we didn’t reach the museum on time as it closed at 5pm. Largely due to me excessive souvenir shopping and hunting for an adequate souvenir for my brother who collects them. There were also no reindeer which my friend had expected to see. We couldn’t visit the reindeers in stalls unless we paid for a sled ride. Again, these finished at 5pm so unfortunately we missed out entirely on meeting Santa’s reindeer in any of the locations we visited. It would be nice if they were more accessible but they are a key moneymaker of the winter season and so are protected in pay only areas.


Finally we enjoyed a delicious burger, recommended by the staff as the best in Rovaniemi! And we had to agree. A hot chocolate and a burger after a hard days Santa sightseeing was much deserved. Also greatly enjoyed by all of us!!


This was a wonderful experience and really was the perfect example of the Winter Wonderland. I couldn’t get the song out of my head as we walked around. I’m so glad my friend encouraged me to go and to share this incredible adventure and childhood fantasy with her and her beautiful family.


Take an adventure in Finland with Safartica

When visiting Rovaniemi in Finland, I highly recommend you enlist the services of Safartica tours for their helpful service and amazing adventures.


My friend had done quite a lot of research prior to arriving in the Lapland area of Finalnd to make sure we made the most of our 3 day trip there. We were keen to see huskies, ride with reindeers, go on snowmobiles, visit the various Santa attractions and get a glimpse of the Northern Lights. In most of her research, she came across reviews of a company called Lapland Safaris. There were many recommendations on websites such as Tripadvisor etc. and it seemed they were a good one to go with so she started to email them about the 2 year old boy we had travelling with us to best accommodate him.


When we arrived at our accommodation at Ounasvaaran Pirtit in Rovianiemi, we found a wealth of brochures to give us more information. One of the first ones I pulled out was Safartica and I started to browse to get a better idea of what they were offering. I read out loud the brochure as we compared it with the information that my friend had from her research.


It turned out that the timing; the pricing and the offerings in the packages were a little better for our group so we called them on Skype to check if we could have a baby with us and confirm details. The man on the phone was helpful, kind and very patient with my terrible line on Skype. We decided to book and as we had booked a few he would give us a 5% discount – and with high prices for some of these tours, every euro counts.


We went on the Northern Lights safari on our first night and the Husky Park and snowmobiles tour on our second day. We had planned to go to the Huskies on our third day but we found out from our guide there would be no skiing on that day as the weather was to be -26, again! It through a spanner in our plans as they only ran tours on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. He said actually, there was a special tour running on the Monday that he was running for a couple and we could move to the group! How amazing.


The Northern Lights was a wonderful experience. We were provided with extremely warm clothing from the company and well briefed on our adventure. The group was a nice size and we travelled to an area in 2 separate vehicles. We got a clearing on the sky that night after a foggy day and our experienced guide new to stop earlier than our planned cabin so we could get a chance to see them – and we did! They were amazing. Well done to our guide Aleksi. We then drove into the forest and trekked through the snow in snow shoes, very novel. We had a wood cabin with fire that we could spend time in or we could go out in the snow shoes and trek around. We were made a traditional Finnish light meal and told about the stars. It was such an end to end experience with the highlight of course being the lights in the night sky but also the hospitality, the atmosphere and the service.

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We also went on the snowmobile and husky tour. We again had Aleksi and he was clever to make arrangements with us to keep our equipment and he picked us up and dropped us off, door to door. We had a good rapport and the process was all very easy. They were also wonderful to help as it turned out the sled option for our 2 year old traveller might be very uncomfortable. They arranged for a driver to take one of the parents with him one way, and the other can ho with him on the return journey, this meant that both parents got a ride at the snowmobile! So accommodating. We had a fantastic snowmobile ride that brought us to the Husky Park. We took a ride in a sled drawn by the huskies and got to get up close and personal with them. We had some snacks and a talk by the fire to warm up before heading back to the town on snowmobiles.

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Our guide Aleksi was knowledgeable, helpful and caring. He made an extra effort to make sure all in our groups needs were met and ensured our comfort and enjoyment at all times. The whole team at Safartica were really genuine and made our experience so easy and pleasant.


I highly recommend this tour company and hope to come back to Rovaniemi in the future to experience more great adventures in this beautiful region.


If someone offers you a getaway in Ibiza, you take it!

One night in Australia, I was planning out my trip for Europe. Only a week to go and I was contacting some family and friends and firming up some plans. I was trying to leave some dates open and flexible as I tend to over plan but start and end dates and when you’re staying with people, need to be firmed up!


I called my Grannie dearest and spoke to her about my arrival on 22nd November. She said yes you’re coming soon and when I again mentioned the date she said – oh no! That won’t work. She had made alternate plans and seemingly forgot my arrival – despite prior conversations. I said it was ok and hurried off the phone, but I’m not going to lie- I was devastated. I was fuming and felt like the whole trip was a big waste. I was on Facebook and felt like making a big rant when this poster came up below.

Sushi Boy classes

It was my friend Anne-Marie and she runs a sushi business in Ibiza and was offering classes. I said “Maybe I will” as I hammered the keyboard with my bitter fingers! We took the conversation to a private message and after a short time I decided, actually, an island getaway after the crazy year I had was exactly what I needed! It had been 25 degrees in Winter and the island was quiet and peaceful and beautiful. DONE!

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After looking into flights, I realised it was going to be a touch more expensive then I hoped and started to back away from my impulsive decision and think perhaps.. it’s best I consider my options more carefully. After consultation with a few friends- and my not really liking the other options or feeling up to researching a whole bunch more ideas, I went with it! $500 (AUD) flights is a small price to pay for some paradise!

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This turned out to be the BEST decision I’ve made in yonks!! Check out the photos above and below. Paradise. I woke to sunrise on my first day with a red glow filling my bedroom, I walked onto the terrace to see the glowing ball rising above the land to start the day. We watched drummers on the beach, munched on jamon and sipped on sangria. I learnt to make sushi and did solid workouts on the beach and in the garden, things I’ve not had the chance to do at home for a long time.


Most of all, I got to relax and enjoy the company of these two beautiful and inspiring people. I knew there was something special about them when I met them in Australia and I’m just so proud and happy to be around people who are choosing to live their dreams and make the most of their life. These guys are running a business in this tropical paradise and finding the true meaning of work/life balance. It made me so happy.


The only problem now, I’m hooked on this island life! I’m already planning my return visit for 2014 for some more relaxation but also next time, it being peak season in the Summer, a bit of party time!


If someone invites you into their life for an hour, a day, a week or more- take the opportunity to experience what the grass is like on the other side- here it was pretty green!


Some days, I’m a terrible tourist

Some days, I just can’t do the tourist thing. Travelling is tiring and it really takes it our of you – it’s only taken me about 7 years of regular travel to realise this of course. Sometimes, I’m just not up for the traipsing about and taking in new and interesting things. Shameful I know. But I’ve learnt not to always push and sometimes give in to what my body is asking me for…. Rest!

A few days in Erlangen

A few days in Erlangen

I spent 3-4 days in Germany on this particular visit and had 2 nights at my cousins’ house in Erlangen. They are a family of 4 with 2 teenage girls who are attending the International School. It’s a busy time in the lead up to Christmas so they didn’t have a lot of time in the days but we could spend the time together at night.

My cousin kindly pointed out some lovely nearby towns and some great ways to kill time by myself during the day and see some beautiful locations, Bamberg and Forccheim.  She gave me maps, train directions, even tickets for the train to get to where I was going. However, when it came to it …. I just couldn’t be bothered.

#Christmas in #Germany is the quintessential way to celebrate this festive season! Loved the #Erlangen

#Christmas in #Germany is the quintessential way to celebrate this festive season! Loved the #Erlangen

I woke up at 8am on the Tuesday morning and felt truly run down. My head ached, my lips are extremely dry from the European Winter and my nose was running like a tap. I just rolled over, turned off the alarm and went back to sleep. My intention was then to catch a train about 1pm, giving me a good 3 hours in Bamberg to explore – a solid day out still. However, when the time came – I just couldn’t snap out of the headache and the low feeling. My younger cousin was home and gave me instruction for the trains again and I then had the intention to leave at 3ish, giving me time to see a little of the place and read my book on the ½ hour train there and back, also so I would make it in time to go out with the family that night.

But, I walked out of the house and I really couldn’t bring myself to do it. I walked around the pretty Erlangen, visited the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas markets) and had some yummy mushrooms.  Come 5pm when I returned to the house I was feeling even more tired- I guess sometimes the weary traveler needs a rest!

My cousin said no shame in resting some times. I’m travelling for 6 weeks, I guess I’m going to need a down day or 4! We planned instead then to go and see something the next morning as she had half day off and we could go to Forccheim. However, come 8am when I said goodbye to everyone else in the family –I simply wanted to return to my bed and stare out the window at the dreary sky we were presented with this day – my only solace in that as I was otherwise being a very lame traveler indeed.


Back to bed until 12.30! Really, I must be exhausted as this is not the Traveller Em that is usually out and about- with age comes wisdom I guess, and on this occasion it was wiser to stay in bed and rest.

Remember when you’re exploring the world – it’s a big place, and there are many things to see. Most of them will be there another day – so don’t beat yourself up if you have a day where you lay in your bed and watch the sky. Rest and relaxation is also part of travel and there is always, another day.

once a year