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SWITZERLAND


SWITZERLAND


Lucerne was completely different from what we had imagined it to be. After looking at some Google images, We knew it would be surrounded by the Alps, has a lake, and some nice views. Of course it has the giant Alps guarding the city from different directions and deep blue Lake Lucerne being a huge home for lots and lots of elegant and friendly white swans. But the city itself is charismatic and charming as well as loaded with Swiss history and a feeling of medieval city life. In addition to that, the location is great to explore other nearby Swiss cities like Zurich, Berne, Basel, Interlaken and regions, like French Alsace, German Black Forest, and finally, the mighty Alps.





The main attractions in Lucerne are within walking distance. Taking a stroll or just chilling by Lake Lucerne is half the fun here. The official language of the city is German, but I’ve heard people speaking French and most of the locals are very fluent in English as well.




Of course, Swiss chocolates are something to eat and buy in Switzerland. Other than Lindt, “Villars” is a good brand of Swiss chocolates. Additionally, Swiss knives, watches (if you have some extra cash to spare), and cowbells are some of the popular souvenirs to take back home. Buying Swiss watches from Switzerland doesn’t mean that you will get them cheaper here, these cost about the same anywhere else in the world. There are tons of Swiss watch stores in Lucerne and some of them are actually open on Sundays too.


The following day, we set out to explore the old town.  We enjoyed visiting the Lion Monument, walking the old city walls, wandering the winding streets of the old town, walking across the river on Kappelbrucke (Chapel Bridge), and visiting the Gletscher Gaarden.  During the course of popping into and out of various shops, we stumbled into a little bakery where we ordered a delicious looking slice of cake to share.  Everything was written in Swiss German, so we had no idea what it actually was.  Turns out it was basically just cake soaked through with what tasted like 100 proof alcohol, and we literally caught a buzz eating it.  The place had a really great location right on the glacial river running through the center of the town, and we had a prime spot to sit there getting blasted on cake while watching the water rush by.




The next morning after breakfast we headed into the bus for Mount Titlis. It was a scenic journey where everything seemed to be worth a photo for memory. At the base of Mount Titlis we had to take 3 different cable cars (a 45 minute journey) to get to the mountain top.  Switching to the second cable car we observed that some cars have flags of various countries printed on them. We were lucky enough to spot the one with the Aussie flag! The third and last lap of the ride up is actually by a special revolving cable car. It is the first in the world and offers a 360° panoramic view. As the car revolves during the ride, it actually doesn’t matter where you stand because you should be able to see all the scenery while standing at one spot. BUT, the car was very crowded, everyone is trying to take pictures at the same time and we had more than half the car filled with the loudest, rudest, rowdiest and noisiest tourists in the world, so it wasn’t a very pleasant journey after all. Finally we got onto the top which was bustling with tourists and signs leading us to different activities they offered here.




The last night we enjoyed the outstandingly good food at Stadtkeller. We loved the atmosphere, as we enjoy carefree hours in the midst of original Swiss folklore, traditional Swiss customs and usages, with alphorns, cowbells, national costumes, flag throwing and yodeling.  It made for an unforgettable experience and unique combination of good food, music and fun.






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RHINELAND TO HEIDELBERG, GERMANY


RHINELAND TO HEIDELBERG  




  Next on the leg we took a drive through the scenic Rhineland in the morning. We took a Rhine River cruise and enjoy splendid scenery including the Lorelei rock. Next, we drove into Germany's oldest university town, Heidelberg, nicely located at the confluence of the Neckar and Rhine Rivers, for a short visit. In the afternoon, we then traveled by way of the Autobahn into Switzerland for two overnights in the Lucerne area.


The group took a cruise south along the Rhine River towards the town of Rudesheim, along a stretch of the water known as the Rhine Valley or Middle Rhine. They listened to audio commentary about the UNESCO-listed area, hearing fun facts about the famous river’s geology, history and sights. The journey took roughly two hours, and the route passes nearly 30 castles, fortresses and ruins as well as vineyards and pretty half-timbered villages.




They passed Kurtrierische Burg, one of the region’s more imposing castles, and then docked at Rudeshiem main pier.  Me and Kim took the opportunity to jump in the coach and see the attractions on the way to Rudesheim with a couple of hours of exploring the town. Aside from Bavaria, the Rhine River region has to be one of the most beautiful areas in Germany. Rudesheim, has that kitschy German fairytale feel that you crave when visiting Germany, but it also boasts some spectacular views.We wondered the streets and enjoyed the peace and quiet from the group. The tour group rejoined us and we all jumped back in the coach and headed to Heidelberg.



Heidelberg is a pretty city that actually reminded us of Salzburg: about the same size and population, a large castle with great views overlooking a river spanned by several bridges, lots of pretty churches. It really seemed a bit of a déjà vu, with the exception that buildings in Salzburg were mostly white with black roofs versus the ones in Heidelberg which have reddish roofs.




One of our highlights was the Philosophenweg (Philosopher’s way), a path on the hills on the northern side of the city. The path is lush with greenery and gardens and has great views over the Old Town and the castle. We walked it straight away and thought Heidelberg was one of the prettiest places we’ve ever seen.



 



AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS


Amsterdam





Amsterdam has one of the largest historic city centers in Europe. The street pattern has been largely unchanged since the 19th century as there was no major bombing during World War II. The center consists of 90 islands linked by 400 bridges, some of them beautifully lit at night. Amsterdam's center is fairly small, and almost abnormally flat, so you can easily get to most tourist destinations on foot from the train station, within half an hour.



We were really excited when we knew that we will be heading to Amsterdam in the first leg of our tour. Amsterdam is one of our favorite destinations and I know everywhere is like my favorite destination right… I want to be everywhere, anywhere except than in Australia. Don’t get us wrong, we love Australia. Australia is our homeland but the weather right now is killing me. Sometimes we love being away because it means getting away from everything, taking a short break to enjoy life. We love spending time alone to read, drink, travel and etc, simply because it is peaceful. 
Amsterdam. Its city center is compact, almost cozy and despite bicycles whizzing by at every turn it still manages to emit a laid back vibe. The city’s red lights and “green” smoke make it one of a kind. A canal cruise, however, will prove that there is so much more to Amsterdam than that.
Everywhere you go, Amsterdam has rows of skinny houses, baskets of colorful Spring tulips and scads of bicycles, all near its canals. Looming overhead and leaning toward the water, the tall and skinny houses that line its canals are as much a part of Amsterdam as bicycles and canal boats. As nice and neat as they might look from the sidewalk, they don’t look quite as tidy near the roof line. The perspective changes at water level, where you can see how jumbled and messy they are at the top, sticking out every which way


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The canal cruise in Amsterdam is officially the most popular attraction and the reason why is simple: there are 165 canals in Amsterdam with the most beautiful architecture along the sides and the best way to experience Amsterdam and see these Amsterdam canal houses is from the water. The canals were not created for pleasure reasons but to stimulate trade and transport. Nowadays, they canals define the city..



Many of the canals we passed had houseboats moored on their banks. Our tour guide told us that many have been around for more than a century. Most are residential homes, but not all. Some houseboats have been converted to hotels, others are available as short-term rentals, and there is even a Houseboat Museum if you just want to see what one looks like inside.




Our last stop in the canal cruise was a guided tour of Gassan Diamonds. We found out how rough diamonds were turned into dazzling exquisitely stones. During a guided tour we admired the diamond polishers at work while our tour guide explained where diamonds are found and what stages a diamond goes through before it is transformed into a brilliant cut diamond.  We experienced the optimal reflection of the Gassan 121, a cut developed in this diamond house and worldwide patented. Subsequently an explanation is given to determine the quality of diamonds and their related value. Loose polished diamonds are shown in various sizes and qualities.

The weather in Amsterdam was a little overcast, but awesome. We took a walk down the picturesque canal streets, immersing ourselves in the gorgeous weather. Our first impressions of the Dutch is they are very friendly and smiley. They speak fluent English so communication wasn’t a problem here. We randomly went into a souvenir shop and even the sales assistant in the shop was extremely helpful.



We strolled down the Bloemenmarkt flower market which is the only floating market in the world. There are 15 stalls in this block-long flower market and you can shop for flower bulbs, seeds, accessories, souvenir, and everything else that is related to the flower trade. One of the places you must go in the Netherlands during spring is Keukenhof, the world’s largest flower garden to see the tulip bloom season.





Don’t come with a set-in-stone bucket list of tourist attractions that leaves no time to roam the city’s historic canals and Golden Age mansions. Amsterdam’s Grachtengordel (canal belt) was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 2010, making it a free outdoor museum. Make sure you have some idea of the geography and history of where you are and what you’d like to see. Beyond its tacky tourist facade, peep shows, cannabis cafés and mischievous reputation, Amsterdam boasts extraordinary art, history and music. Learning about its culture before you arrive will heighten your appreciation of the city.




CHECK OUT OUR VIDEO ON AMSTERDAM HERE;













LONDON, SECOND STOP AND START OF EUROPEAN TOUR



LONDON




Our first start to the European Tour was London. We had only two full days to explore the city. Covering over a thousand square kilometers with almost 8 million people, it’s hard to know where to start exploring a mega-metropolis like London. Taken as a whole, the city seems brash, noisy and impenetrable. But when you break it down, borough by borough, the real character shines through. From East End market traders on Roman Road, the oldest trade route in Britain, to the oh-so-chic (and expensive) fashions of Chelsea, every area – every street, even – has its own story to tell. And it’s a story that’s constantly evolving. With the influx of immigrants from nations around the world – most recently, Eastern Europe – whole areas are taking on new and rapidly changing identities.


Like Brick Lane, for example; once a haven for Huguenots fleeing religious persecution in France, the area became home to the Irish, then Ashkenazi Jews, before morphing again under the influence of today’s Bengali population. Each group left its mark through food, music and religion. It’s this delightful mish-mash of normally disparate cultures that makes London neighborhoods so wonderful to explore. London is a city in flux, a city whose population and culture is influenced by and, in turn, influences the world. You can almost feel the creativity humming as people from all over the globe mix to create an atmosphere unlike any other.



After a dumping our luggage we took advantage of a free few hours and some beautiful clear skies to take a walk along southbank of the Thames. We started our walk on the north side of Westminster Bridge. We arrived by tube, and took the exit that leads to the bridge and then looked up. Towering over us was a glorious sight and one of London’s most famous landmarks, Big Ben. Strictly speaking, ‘Big Ben’ is the name of the 16 tonne bell housed inside the clock tower, but the Brits commonly refer to the tower as Big Ben. This magnificent ornate tower is attached to ‘the mother of all parliaments’: the Palace of Westminster. The building is very grand and looks much older than it actually is, built during the reign of Queen Victoria; it was designed to express national greatness by mixing decorative English gothic with Elizabethan style. To get the best view of Westminster, we crossed over to the south side of the river, and headed down the steps to the London Eye.


We Continued east and passed the Millennium Gardens, and quite possibly, a few street performers and human statues that are often excellent entertainment. We walked on, under a railway bridge and the Hungerford pedestrian bridge, before coming across a set of Corbusier-style grey concrete buildings to your right. Often called, ‘the bunker’, the first of these buildings, The Royal Festival Hall, was built in the 1950s to lift spirits after the end of World War II, and to commemorate the centenary of the ‘Great Exhibition’ of 1851.



We then continued along the walkway and the next big building we came across was the Gabriel’s Wharf; once a power station and then a meatpacking factory, today this is a complex of craft and design shops, studios and restaurants. Continue along another 400 metres or so, passing Blackfriars bridge on our left and you’ll come across and an enormous industrial brick building with a 99 metre high chimney soaring high into the London sky. This is the Tate Modern, once a power station and today, one of the very best places to see 20th century art. What’s more, it’s free to visit.

Next door to the Tate Modern, was a replica of Shakespeare’s own theatre: the Globe. Recreated by the dedicated American actor, Sam Wanamaker, incredibly, there is not one nail or screw in the whole building. Instead, 600 wooden pegs hold it together and it boasts London’s first thatched roof since the city’s great fire of 1661.


From the Globe, we followed the pedestrian traffic that temporarily leaves the river and leads you onto a cobbled street that passes between two very old buildings. One of these, on your right, is London’s old infamous ‘Clink,’ a prison dating back to Dickens’ time. Continue, and on your left, you will pass a replica of the Golden Hinde, the ship that Sir Francis Drake sailed around the world between 1577 and 1580. The street will bring you to the side of Southwark Cathedral, the site of the original church where Shakespeare came to worship. Some parts of the building date back to the 12th century. You will find here many monuments to the many famous historical figures who were connected to the once parish church.



To finish your walk, we took the steps that lead from the market to London Bridge, and here you have another fabulous view of London. To the west, on the north side of the river, is St Paul’s Cathedral, and to the east, the most iconic bridge of them all, Tower Bridge. What a sight.
The light faded as we walked, turning the sky from pale to navy blue, and the city’s lights came to life, illuminating streets and buildings. Commuters rushed by as I dawdled on the path, taking photos until my hands went numb in the cold.



Up early for a great buffet breakfast we hit the road and made our way towards the river bank where the famous Hammersmith Bridge stands resplendent in green and gold. From here we followed the waterfront west along Lower Mall, past the greenery of Furnivall Gardens and the handful of houseboats that permanently reside on the water here.  Before long we’ve come to The Dove public house where it’s steeped in history dating back to the 17th century. Many a famous word has been written inside here, including the well-known lyrics to "Rule Britannia", and as well as that the pub has a Guinness World Record for the smallest bar-room in the world. 


Heading along from here, as you approach Chiswick Mall, you could be forgiven for thinking you've stepped back in time. Old-style lanterns line the street and grand houses look out onto the river. This part of the walk is very tranquil; you will be able to hear many birds in the trees, including flocks of wild parakeets and of course river birds such as ducks and swans.  Chiswick Eyot is an uninhabited island which lies just off this stretch of river and when the tide is particularly low there is a part where the bank opens out and you can walk right up to it (although it does get muddy). However, at the other extreme, sometimes the tide is so high that the river floods the street and pavement here; a regular occurrence that the local residents have had to get used to. At this point of the walk, to our right, you'll see the famous Fuller's Brewery dating back to 184. Too early for a brew, so we moved on.




 We then saw a church directly in front of us, which is the St Nicholas Parish Church.  We strolled through its churchyard and along the footpath, and brought us out onto Burlington Lane. 
We then jumped in a cab and headed to Kensington to discover the vintage shops that the area has on offer, we got a feel for how Londoners live and where they shop in the smart area of Kensington. Kensington is home to most famous actors and was Diana’s Princess of Wales residence of choice.
Notting Hill is one of the trendiest areas in the borough, Together we browsed through the various Portobello market stalls, which had great vintage clothing and jewelry. We walked along the beautiful streets of Notting Hill and Kim browsed through the nice boutiques.



We then discovered the shops of some of London’s most exclusive streets around the Oxford Street Area and neighboring areas, like Picadilly, Mayfair and Marylebone. Oxford Street was home to most high street brands and a number of major department stores as well as hundreds of smaller shops.
That night we enjoyed a lovely meal on a London Pub Tour. A pint of London Pride each, as well. The glossy wood, bay window seating, brass trim, and view of the park across the street in Smithfield made us feel very welcome. I had the meat pie and Kim had the fish and chips. We then strolled around the square just before we departed to see the historic church and William Wallace plaque.



The next day we took a tour with a panoramic drive around Parliament Square to see the magnificent Westminster Abbey, where Prince William and Kate Middleton were married, then to Kensington Palace, former home of Diana, Princess of Wales. We dropped into the Royal Albert Hall and Albert Memorial. We then headed to St James' Park and Buckingham Palace to see the colourful ceremony of the Changing of the Guard, accompanied by a military band, a detachment of the Queen's Foot Guard march to Buckingham Palace to change with the old guard.  



Our next stop was a guided tour of St Paul's Cathedral, Sir Christopher Wren's masterpiece with its magnificent dome. The Cathedral was rebuilt after the Great Fire of London in 1666. In recent years it has seen the wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, to Lady Diana Spencer and, more recently, the thanksgiving services for both the Diamond Jubilee and 80th Birthday of Her Majesty the Queen.

We got a chance to climb 259 steps up the dome were we found The Whispering Gallery, which runs around the interior of the Dome. It gets its name from a charming quirk in its construction, which makes a whisper against its walls audible on the opposite side.



That night we took London by Night tour which revealed the floodlit splendor of London’s landmarks as dusk falls. When twilight descends upon London, the attractions of the city become imbued with certain grandeur. This sweeping, wide–ranging tour  encompassed the most distinguished and vibrant areas of this world renowned capital, including Parliament Square, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus and the financial district of the City. The tour also glided past eminent structures and attractions such as the world renowned London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral, inimitable Buckingham Palace, the formidable Tower of London, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.


Early morning we left London and headed through the lush English countryside to the Channel port, where we embarked on to the P&O ferry for the Continent. There we meet our Tour Director and boarded our luxury coach for the drive to the Amsterdam area.



Check out the little movie here:




DUBAI,UNE





DUBAI, UNE





We used Dubai as a stopover before heading to London to start our European Tour. The truth is Dubai has never been anywhere near our travel radar, which is why we had no idea what to expect. So it’s a bit ironic (in a good way) that we come home declaring it as one of my favorite cities I’ve ever visited so far.





Dubai is a beautiful city. At a glance, it’s quite easy to forget that this place is actually a desert that has been reclaimed and built over, with structures that are as grand and sprawling as any of the sheikh’s palaces. The main city is extremely modern, but there are still areas where one can appreciate the “old Dubai”. Driving around feels a little like you’re driving in circles. Actually it reminds me a little of Singapore in that sense because it’s almost as if you take a few spins on different roads in the same area to get from one place to another. It’s really interesting to just watch the city pass by the car window as the place is a treasure trove for aspiring architects because you can’t help but marvel at how unique the buildings here are.
A lot of people seem to have the misconception that when you visit Dubai, the gals have to be all covered up in head to toe black like a traditional Hindi woman. But since Dubai is an open and global city, they have embraced the more modern way of living. Roughly speaking you can wear anything you want, but of course, there are still some places that will require you to dress appropriately, but I mean, isn’t it just normal to dress properly anyway? Dubai has quite the diverse population, so it’s important to be respectful as well as conscious of how we behave while going around this lovely city. The law is quite strict so it’s quite safe here, so at least in that aspect you can breathe a little easier right?






Off the plane we got delivered to Grand Excelsior Hotel Bur Dubai. This family-friendly Dubai hotel is located in Bur Dubai, within 1 mi (2 km) of Textile Souk, BurJuman Mall, and Dubai Museum. Grand Mosque and The Dubai Heritage Village are also within 2 mi (3 km). This hotel is also 8 km from The Dubai Mall and 7 km from the Dubai Spice Souk.  Featuring free Wi-Fi, the airy rooms with contemporary Arabic decor also came with flat-screen TVs, minibar, and tea and coffee making facilities.  There were 5 bars and restaurants including a refined international restaurant and a laid-back bar. There’s was also a gym and a rooftop pool, plus a steam room, a sauna and a business centre.  After arrive late afternoon we dropped the bags and headed for the pool to chill and nap. We weren't that tired and enjoyed dinner in one of the restaurants. We are still working on Australian time.

The next day we booked a tour which started at 9am, with our private guide picking us up from our hotel. We were scheduled to check out quite a number of places like the Jumeirah Mosque, Dubai Diera Creek, Dubai Museum, Gold Souq, Al Bastakiya, Burj Al Arab, Atlantis The Palm and many more.





Our first stop was a quick photo outside the much-photographed mosque of Dubai, Jumeirah Mosque.  But if you have a lot of time, you may choose to take the tour around the mosque. It usually takes about one and half to two hours. Our next stop was another photo opportunity along Jumeirah beach,with the famous 7-star hotel, Burj Al Arab, as the backdrop. It’s one of Dubai’s most distinctive landmarks with its signature Arabian dhow sail shaped exterior visible from almost everywhere in the city. No trip to Dubai can ever be complete without taking a photo with it. Another stop was the famous hotel at Jumeirah Atlantis, The Palm. As its name suggests, the hotel was designed with the theme of the myth of Atlantis. We wish we were able to take a better photo of its exterior. Next up was a quick stop in front of Sheikh Mohammed’s (Ruler of Dubai) Palace. How we wish tourists are allowed to take a peek inside. We were so curious how it looks like because our guide told us so many stories about the ruling family.



After all the sightseeing, a little dose of shopping at the gold souk was in order. Dubai is famous for its gold. For some reason, you can get gold at cheaper prices here. Even so, we didn’t really buy any gold here because we were overwhelmed with the selection.  A few vendors along the small side streets were selling abayas, plates, ceramics, souvenirs and more as well. Just a little tip though, make sure to haggle. Everyone haggles here, especially when it comes to purchasing gold. To unwind from all the chaos that greeted us at the gold souk, it’s only right to follow it up with Al Bastakiya. Part of our tour was lunch at the charming XVA Café which is one of the interesting establishments located in Bastakiya. It used to be a house owned by a super wealthy family but it’s now a café, hotel and gallery. Overall, it was a day well spent. In just a few hours, we learned so much about Dubai and it’s culture.




Late afternoon we headed back to the Dubai Mall for a captivating water, music and light spectacle. One of Dubai’s most compelling tourist attractions, The Dubai Fountain delights thousands of visitors every day. The Dubai Fountain is the world’s tallest performing fountain, in Downtown Dubai.  At over 900 ft in length – equivalent to over two football pitches – The Dubai Fountain is situated on the 30-acre Burj Lake and performs to a selection of different melodies. We watched the 6pm show and headed around Dubai for some night shots.



Woke up the next day with a great breakfast and back to chill by the pool for a few hours, then back to the airport and onto London, England